Friday, 15 March 2019

The Verdict: Judge delivers devastating blow against Post Office in first trial.

 

The Bates v Post Office class action (more correctly known as Group Litigation Order or GLO) has now reached the end of the first stage. 

Former subpostmasters who have been sacked and/or charged and/or jailed for theft, fraud or improper accounting are claiming that the errors revealed by the Horizon computer system and audits were all due to errors within the system, and that there was no fraudulent activity.  The situation goes back at least as far as 2007.

The first trial, which started in November 2018, is known as the Common Issues Trial.  This centres around the relationship between Post Office Ltd and the individual SubpostmastersTo borrow from Nick Wallis's excellent reporting on postofficetrial,

In very broad brush strokes, the JFSA appears to be saying that the Post Office is responsible for putting Subpostmasters in a horribly disadvantaged situation, which was so unfair as to be unlawful.

The Post Office appears to be saying it followed its contract with its Subpostmasters to the letter and didn't do anything wrong. It is particularly keen to deny its contract with Subpostmasters is "relational" or in any way "tortious".

On the claim form, which summarises the case against the Post Office, the claimants (mainly Subpostmasters, but including some Post Office employees and Subpostmaster assistants) say they "have been subjected to unlawful treatment by the Defendant causing them significant financial losses (including loss of their business and property) bankruptcy, prosecutions, serving community or custodial sentences, distress and related ill-health, stigma and/or reputational damage."
And Mr Justice Fraser has delivered a devastating blow to Post Office Ltd.  Patrick Green QC for the claimant calls judgment an "incredible vindication" of the Subpostmasters and a very important legal decision in the findings against the Post Office.  One lawyer called this a "clean sweep" for the claimants. The lead solicitor called this a "huge judgment in more ways than one".

If you have a few hours to spare, the entire judgement is now on the official judiciary.uk website here.

Meanwhile here are a few highlights:

"§1113.  "he Post Office is not entitled to act in a way that would be considered commercially unacceptable by reasonable and honest people.

"§1116. I find that the Post Office is not therefore entitled to rely upon the Branch Trading Statements, for any period in respect of which a SPM notified a dispute to the Helpline, as a settled account between agent and principal."

"§1117. Suspended SPMs were not paid for their period of suspension but in order to keep their branches open had to pay Temporary SPMs to run them. Even if reinstated, they had no right to be paid their remuneration for their period of suspension.  I find that the Claimants are correct and the Post Office was required to act in accordance with the implied duty of good faith in these contracts (as a result of their being relational ones) in exercising its power to terminate the contracts.

"§1119.  In [the new post-2011] contract the extent of contractual liability of a SPM was sought to be increased by the Post Office very substantially, and to entitle the Post Office to recover losses from SPMs regardless of any fault on their part.  I find that this clause fails the test of reasonableness in the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, which governs these contracts, and the Post Office is not entitled to rely upon it."


Second trial
The Horizon trial is the second trial in the Bates and others v Post Office group litigation at the High Court.  It is being held between 11 March 2019 and 4 April 2019 at the Rolls Building in London. Mr Justice Fraser is again presiding.

This trial includes witness statements from Sub-Postmasters, employees of Fujitsu (who provided the Horizon system to POLtd), and Second Sight, the company that was engaged by POLtd to carry out a review of the system to identify problems, and which was sacked by POLtd before the report could be made public, and directors of which gave evidence to a select committee of MPs, as did POLtd managers and their Chief Executive Office, Paula Vennells.

Ah yes, Paula Vennells: CEO of Post Office Ltd who, in January 2019 was awarded a CBE and in February was appointed as a non-executive board member to the Cabinet Office.  At the end of February she announced she was leaving POLtd to join Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust as its Chair in April.  She leaves POLtd "fighting a class action which has the potential to sink it. Paula Vennells' award and the appointments have outraged dozens of former Subpostmasters who hold her ultimately responsible for what happened to them - variously sacked, criminalised and ruined." ( - Nick Wallis).

You can read more about the progress of the second trial here and follow daily reports live from the court, from Nick Wallis. 

2 comments:

  1. In good old time honoured traditions did Paula Vennells go or was she pushed, sorry helped to find alternative employment elsewhere at a higher pay band or at another pay band with enhanced benefits?

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  2. And the Post Office response
    https://www.onepostoffice.co.uk/secure/latest-news/general-news/court-findings-in-first-phase-of-group-litigation/

    ReplyDelete