The legal team behind the group action brought against the Post Office by sub-postmasters in relation to alleged faults in the organisation’s computer system will this week receive a document outlining the Post Office’s defence against the allegations.
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Since the group action was announced in March, several hundred sub-postmasters have been added to the 198 who were originally involved. More than 1,300 applied to join the action, but not all claims were added to the case, which is now closed to new applicants.
In March, the High Court approved the group litigation order brought against the Post Office by sub-postmasters who claim to have suffered as a result of a faulty Post Office IT system. In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the plight of some sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon operating system and supporting processes. The Post Office has vehemently denied this claim (see timeline below).
“The cut-off date for joining the action had been 26 July, but we gave people a slightly earlier date, now passed, because it takes a few days to process claims,” said James Hartley, partner at Freeths Solicitors.
Although it is now too late to join the action, the legal team will keep a reserve list of sub-postmasters with grievances in case more are permitted at a later stage, so Freeths Solicitors is still inviting sub-posmasters who feel they have been affected by the alleged problems to get in touch.
After years of campaigning by sub-postmasters the legal case started in November 2015, when the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), which supports affected sub-postmasters, announced a group action against the Post Office.
The group, which is seeking justice and compensation for sub-postmasters, received the financial backing required for the case in February 2016. The JFSA was set up by Alan Bates, a sub-postmaster in Llandudno, north Wales, from 1998 to 2003, after he was affected by the alleged problems with Horizon. He said that after years of campaigning, there was “no other option but to seek redress though the courts”.
The next landmark will be a major procedural hearing in October, when the managing judge will set out a timetable for the case.
Separately, the Criminal Courts Review Commission (CCRC) is reviewing 27 cases put forward by sub-postmasters who claim they did not get a fair trial. Two years on from the CCRC’s decision to look into the cases, the appointment of forensic accountants in April was an important milestone.
Post Office Horizon: Timeline of events