POST OFFICE: HORIZON TRIAL – BATES & OTHERS VS POST OFFICE LTD
Further to LTB 234/19 dated 12th April. I would like to provide Branches with an update regarding the Group Litigation Action against the Post Office by 557 former Postmasters who have been sacked, financially ruined and in some cases imprisoned for what they believe are errors with the Horizon computer system.
Branches will recall that there are four trials in total in this case, and following the first of these – the “Common Issues” trial, the Judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Fraser ruled in favour of the claimants. The Judge was also critical of the relationship between the Post Office and the NFSP, stating that he found “that the NFSP is not fully independent”.
Following the Judge’s ruling, the Post Office made an application for the sitting Judge Mr Fraser to be recused (remove himself from the trial) on the basis of “apparent bias”. This led to the temporary suspension of the second trial – the “Horizon issues” trial which began on 11th March.
On 9th April, Mr Justice Fraser, made the decision NOT to recuse himself from the second trial and indeed the third and fourth trials. The Post Office’s QC asked the Judge for permission to appeal which was not granted. Therefore the Post Office went directly to the Court of Appeal to ask for permission to appeal against the recusal decision.
On 10th May, without a hearing, the Court of Appeal made the decision to refuse the Post Office’s appeal. Lord Justice Coulson, in making this decision via a very detailed document which was highly critical of the Post Office, noted that the application was “without substance”. Lord Coulson also stated the following:
“For the PO now to complain about the making of findings on these issues, which arose out of the way which they themselves put their case, is absurd.”
“The judge learned of the recusal application by accident just before the afternoon session of the last day of the factual evidence on the Horizon Issues trial This was at best discourteous; at worst, it betrayed a singular lack of openness on the part of the PO and their advisors.”
Lord Coulson also seemingly displayed some sympathy with the Postmasters who surmised that the Post Office’s recusal application was made for the purpose of delaying or causing the collapse of the Horizon trial when he stated:
“It is a great pity that the recusal application and this application for permission to appeal have had the effect of delaying the conclusion of the critical Horizon sub-trial. Indeed, the mere making of these applications could have led to the collapse of that sub-trial altogether. Although I can reach no concluded view on the matter, I can at least understand why the SPMs originally submitted on 21 March that that was its purpose.”
The second trial will now recommence with the Managing Judge, Mr Fraser, on 4th June with the third and fourth trials scheduled for later this year and early next.
In a communication dated 13th May (attached to this LTB for your information), Al Cameron, Interim Chief Executive, also indicated the Post Office will appeal the Managing Judge’s interpretation of the Postmasters’ contracts (trial one) and in this regard a hearing is now due to take place on 23rd May.
Clearly the Horizon litigation is not going in the direction the Post Office would like and should this continue the costs and compensation to the claimants could be substantial.
Further developments on this important matter will be reported as they occur.
Further Details on the Horizon Trials
I would like to remind Branches and members that full details of the Horizon trials can be accessed via the journalist Nick Wallis’ website (note parts of the website are free and some sections you have to subscribe to):