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Post Office IT trial judgement within days

The judgment in the second trial in a multimillion-pound legal battle over an allegedly faulty IT system at the Post Office is imminent

A High Court judgement for a trial that focused on the Post Office’s controversial IT system at the centre of a multimillion-pound litigation will be announced early next month.

The trial, which analysed the Horizon IT system and supporting processes, is part of a court battle between the Post Office and 550 former subpostmasters who are suing for damages for suffering caused by alleged faults. The case, which has so far seen two trials and two appeals has cost tens of millions of pounds in total, has another two trials planned next year.

The plight of some subpostmasters 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, from Fujitsu, for the problems, which the Post Office refutes (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

In a recent case management meeting focused ongoing case costs, Judge Fraser, who is managing the group litigation order (GLO), said his judgement for the second trial will be published in early November. This is expected to come before the Post Office legal team begins to seek permission to appeal some of the judgments from the first trial.

The first trial, which took place in November last year, looked at the contractual relationship between subpostmasters and the Post Office. Judge Fraser announced his judgment on March 15 this year. He found there was a culture of secrecy and confidentiality at the Post Office in general, but particularly around the Horizon accounting and retail system subpostmasters use to run the branches.

Fraser issued significant judgments on the nature of the relational contract between subpostmasters and the Post Office.

The judge’s criticisms of the Post Office included that it used “oppressive behaviour” when demanding sums of money that could not be accounted for by subpostmasters.

Post Office appeals

The Post Office appealed some of the judgments from the first trial, which Fraser rejected. The Post Office is seeking permission to appeal some of the judgments from the first trial, at the Court of Appeal on 12 November.

The second trial focused on the Horizon system and was the second of four trials currently planned. Revelations included a Known Errors Log that contained thousands of Horizon errors that the Post Office and supplier Fujitsu knew of, but did not inform the subpostmaster network about.

During the trial and following his judgments on the first trial, the Post Office legal team attempted to have Judge Fraser removed from the case for alleged bias. After he refused, the appeal went to the Court of Appeal, where it was rejected.

The court case is the result of about 18 years of campaigning by former subpostmaster Alan Bates. He was a subpostmaster at Craig-y-don Post Office in Wales from 1998 to 2003. In 2000, he discovered a shortfall of over £1,000 which he couldn’t account for, and wrote to the Post Office. After two further letters, the Post Office wrote back in 2002, saying it would write off the amount without giving any reason.

Bates continued to have problems with deficits. He refused to sign his weekly accounts, as it would have made him liable for any losses.

Bates first contacted Computer Weekly about the problems in 2004. At the time, he wrote: “I fully expect it to take a number of years to bring Post Office Ltd to account for what they have done to us, but we are determined to do it.”

There is also an ongoing investigation being carried out by the Criminal Courts Review Commission (CCRC) about potential miscarriages of justice in certain subpostmaster cases.

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

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