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Post Office applies to appeal damning judgment in first Horizon trial

The Post Office has applied for permission to appeal judgments from the first trial in its IT-related legal battle with subpostmasters

The Post Office has made an application to appeal the judgment of a High Court judge in the first trial in the group litigation brought against it by subpostmasters.

This is official confirmation of an appeal which was expected.

During a hearing in April about an application by the Post Office requesting Judge Fraser, the managing judge, recuse himself from the case, the Post Office legal team said it would appeal some of the judgments from the first trial.

The judgment the Post Office is seeking to appeal is from the first trial, where the contractual relationship between Post Office and subpostmasters were put under the microscope.

The plight of some subpostmasters, which run Post Office branches, was first reported in 2009, when Computer Weekly revealed that the lives of some of them had been turned upside-down after being fined, sacked, made bankrupt or even imprisoned because of unexplained accounting shortfalls. They blamed the Horizon accounting and retail system for the problems, but the Post Office has refuted this (see timeline below).

The judgment from the first trial said the Post Office demonstrated “oppressive behaviour” when demanding sums of money that could not be accounted for by subpostmasters.  

Judge Fraser, who is managing the case, also found there was a culture of secrecy and confidentiality generally in the Post Office, but particularly around the Horizon accounting and retail system subpostmasters use to run the branches.

“There can be no excuse, in my judgment, for an entity such as the Post Office to mis-state, in such clearly expressed terms, in letters that threaten legal action, the extent of the contractual obligation upon a [subpostmaster] for losses,” he said in the ruling.

“The only reason for doing so, in my judgment, must have been to lead the recipients to believe that they had absolutely no option but to pay the sums demanded. It is oppressive behaviour.”

In response to the Post Office appeal, Alan Bates, lead claimant and leader of the Justice for Subpostmasters’ Alliance “JFSA), said: “It’s hardly surprising that Post Office treats the judiciary this way, we’ve all seen how it treats subpostmasters.”

On 23 May, there will be a hearing with arguments from both sides about the application to appeal the judgment in the first trial. If Judge Fraser refuses this, the Post Office could go to the Court of Appeal. This hearing will also consider the claimants’ application for costs.

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

Read more on IT for retail and logistics

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