Wednesday 11 December 2019

Post Office Trial ends in Mediation

We've reported occasionally the lengthy litigation between a group of Sub-Postmasters and Post Office Ltd.  (See here and earlier.)  Those who have been following the detailed (word-for-word) reporting by journalist Nick Wallis will be awaiting the results of the second major part of this, the Horizon trial, the verdict for which will be announced on 16th December.

But in the word of Nick....

Well, that's a bit of a surprise. At 9am this morning the claimant Subpostmasters and the Post Office issued the following statement:
"The Parties to the Group Litigation in Bates v Post Office are pleased to report that they have reached a comprehensive resolution to their long-running litigation in the High Court, following several days of respectful, challenging, and ultimately successful mediation during which the parties engaged with each other in good faith.

"The Post Office would like to express its gratitude to claimants, and particularly those who attended the mediation in person to share their experiences with us, for holding us to account in circumstances where, in the past, we have fallen short and we apologise to those affected.

"The Post Office is committed to applying the lessons it has learnt. Its new Chief Executive Officer, who joined in September and led this drive to a mediated resolution, is undertaking an ambitious and sustained programme of changes to the Post Office’s relationship with postmasters whose role we recognise as being core to our future success. We look forward to working in genuine partnership with postmasters to seize the opportunities ahead of us and to continue to serve communities across the country.

Post Office Chairman, Tim Parker, said:

“We are grateful to the claimants for taking part in this mediation and agreeing a settlement, bringing the Group Litigation to a close.  I am grateful to Nick Read for his important engagement in the mediation process.  We accept that, in the past, we got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters and we look forward to moving ahead now, with our new CEO currently leading a major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters.”
Nick Read commented:

“I am very pleased we have been able to find a resolution to this longstanding dispute. Our business needs to take on board some important lessons about the way we work with postmasters, and I am determined that it will do so.
We are committed to a reset in our relationship with postmasters, placing them alongside our customers at the centre of our business. As we agree to close this difficult chapter, we look forward to continuing the hard work ahead of us in shaping a modern and dynamic Post Office, serving customers in a genuine commercial partnership with postmasters, for the benefit of communities across the UK.”
Alan Bates commented:

“The Steering Committee would like to thank Nick Read, the new CEO of Post Office, for his leadership, engagement and determination in helping to reach a settlement of this long running dispute.  During the mediation, it became clear that he intends to reset the relationship between the Post Office and its Subpostmasters and put in place new processes and support for them, as part of a wider programme of improvements.
It would seem that from the positive discussions with Post Office’s new CEO, Nick Read, that there is a genuine desire to move on from these legacy issues and learn lessons from the past.”

Read more here.

"In case anyone's wondering, the Horizon judgment will still be handed down at 2pm on Monday 16 December by the managing judge, Mr Justice Fraser. That's about £10m worth of legal fees and a serious amount of time and brainpower expended by a capable judge on what is now something of a non-story. Such is life." (Nick Wallis blog).


  1. I wonder how much of this is down to the new boss?

    1. I suspect it's down to the new CEO, Nick Read, and possibly the government, after publication of this

      which highlights how the government/civil service SHOULD oversee 'arms-lengt bodies', but in this case were not.

      “the Secretary of State is ultimately accountable to Parliament for the overall effectiveness and efficiency of each ALB of which their department is responsible.”

      It's not just about oversight. The department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is "required to actively involve itself in the affairs of the Post Office."

  2. Even at a reported average of £50k payment per claimant (net of legal costs and fees), Post Office Limited seems to be getting off lightly.

    I fail to see how any such payment will go more than part way to placing the affected individuals in the position in which they would have been had they not been falsely accused.

    I hope that the CPS will be considering whether certain executives within Post Office Limited (including some who will now have moved on) should face charges of perjury or perverting the course of justice in their evidence leading to the conviction of demonstrably innocent individuals.

    I confess not to know how liable Post office Limited (or any corporate entity) can be held, but I would like to see justice served by HM Government seeking - in its own name - to recover all costs associated with the various trials of individuals subsequently exonerated (as seems likely), all costs associated with the imprisonment of those whose sentences are quashed, and all social security benefit payments made to those who lost their jobs as a result of the false witness borne under oath by Post Office Limited respresentatives.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. An interesting perspective. I agree - Nick Wallis has also written on this aspect (see his blog) - that the sum seems far too low after costs and the payment to the cost guarantors is made. POL have got off lightly.

      I fear, though, that recovery from individual senior managers would not work; they could simply declare bankruptcy (there's karma in the offing!). The problem with HMG (ie the taxpayer) seeking to recover monies from POL is that POL is funded by the government ie the taxpayer. [If it were RM then the shareholders would also suffer, but it isn't.)

      On the other hand, the split only occurred in 2011 and this had been ongoing for 10 years by then.... Should Royal Mail have been sold off without a contingency for settlement?

      Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing. The ministers in charge at that point, or even the CEO prior to Paula Vennells, could probably say that they had no idea that things were as bad as they were, based on the assurances (ie lies) they were told by PO senior managers at the time.

  3. I suspect that there will be a review of the prosecution functions and how that power was skewed in favour of the Post Office. Fraud, Contempt of Court or Perverting the Course of Justice either with or without a conspiracy element could follow. It would not necessarily be the CPS as the Serious Fraud Office would also have an interest and would be better acquainted with the legal specialties involved. The Post Office as a legal entity as well as individual employees, Royal Mail, Auditors, IT contractors and even members of the legal profession. Admittedly the latter would be unusal, but who knows what any investigation will uncover.

    No doubt the judge orbita will make comment in his verdict about the state of affairs.

    One thing that is certain is that the Court of Appeal and the Criminal Cases Review Commission will be busy, and that the new boss has whilst drawn a line (also limiting his culpability)

    A few words of comment. Given that we the public don’t what legal consequences may occur, speculation about the future course of surrounding this case would best be restrained.

    1. One thing that occurs to me as a result of your comment.

      Is it fraud if the Post Office takes 'repayment of shortfalls' from subpostmasters while knowing that there are faults in their system (some of which they know about and others they have not investigated) and knowing (as was revealed early on in the evidence) that the faults (and hence the discrepancies) occurred whilst their own investigators were operating the system alongside the SPM?

    2. In theory, yes. There would be scope within the Fraud Act 2006.

      One reason most civil cases of this nature are settled before trial is that one evidence and judgment is given, they are a matter of public record and can’t be stifled by a non-disclosure agreement, so exposing the company (employees and contractors if they can be identified) to criminal proceedings (Porter v Magill [2001] UKHL 67 is a UK administrative law case decided by the House of Lords which arose out of the Homes for votes scandal involving Dame Shirley Porter, offers an insight that public officials are not out of reach for legal breaches). Whether this course of action will be followed in relation to the Post Office remains to be seen.

  4. And the Judgement is
    Workers secure fresh victory over Post Office

    1. "Mr Justice Fraser said he would refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions after evidence given by employees of Fujitsu, which developed and maintained the Horizon system, in previous court case."

      The cynic in me wonders if Post Office Limited is already planning to sue for damages (from Fujitsu) with a view to profiting from the whole sorry affair despite the size of the payout already announced.


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