Post Office facing group litigation over Horizon computer system after watershed decision

A High Court judge has granted a group litigation order (GLO) that will see a class action against the Post Office regarding claims that sub-postmasters were wrongly punished because of flaws in the Post Office’s Horizon computer system.

A High Court judge has granted a group litigation order (GLO) that will see a class action against the Post Office regarding claims that sub-postmasters were wrongly punished because of flaws in the Post Office’s Horizon computer system.

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Granted on 26 January 2017, the GLO means the High Court of Justice has agreed to manage the case. This was not a foregone conclusion, so the decision is a watershed in the case.

In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon system and supporting processes. The Post Office has vehemently denied this claim.

“This means the High Court will manage the case and drive it forward,” said James Hartley, partner at Freeths Solicitors, which is representing 198 sub-postmasters in the group action. This number could increase.

The case, which could go on for a number of years, is now set and will not go away. It began in November 2015, when the sub-postmasters – supported by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) – announced their group action against the Post Office.

The group, which seeks justice and compensation for sub-postmasters, received the financial backing required for the case in February 2016.

At the time, the JFSA said, after years of campaigning, it was left with “no other option but to seek redress though the courts”. Freeths Solicitors and Henderson Barristers Chambers are pushing the civil action through the High Court.

The court set a cut-off date of 26 July 2017 for new claimants to join the action. Any sub-postmasters, former sub-postmasters or staff of these who believe they have been affected should contact Freeths Solicitors.

The Post Office said it “welcomes the progress made today, but will not otherwise comment on live litigation”.

Separately, the Criminal Cases Review Commission is also reviewing prosecutions for account shortfalls, which sub-postmasters blamed on Horizon. This ongoing review is looking at 30 claims of wrongful prosecution.

Post Office Horizon: Timeline of eventsMay 2009:Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods – postmasters tell their story.September 2009:Postmasters form action group after accounts shortfall.November 2009:Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions.February 2011:Post Office faces legal action over alleged accounting system failures.October 2011:85 sub-postmasters seek legal support in claims against Post Office computer system.June 2012:Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes.January 2013:Post Office admits that Horizon system needs more investigation.January 2013:Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence.January 2013:Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations.June 2013:Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases.July 2013:Post Office Horizon system investigation reveals concerns.October 2013:End in sight for sub-postmaster claims against Post Office’s Horizon accounting system.October 2013:Former Lord Justice of Appeal Hooper joins Post Office Horizon investigation.November 2013:150 sub-postmasters file claims over “faulty” Horizon accounting system.September 2014:Fresh questions raised over Post Office IT system’s role in fraud cases.December 2014:Members of Parliament (MPs) blast Post Office over IT system investigation and remove backing.December 2014:Why MPs lost faith in the Post Office’s IT investigation, but vowed to fight on.December 2014:MPs to debate sub-postmaster IT injustice claims.December 2014:MP accuses Post Office of acting “duplicitously” in IT investigation.January 2015:MPs force inquiry into Post Office sub-postmaster mediation scheme.January 2015:Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system.February 2015:Post Office CIO would talk to any sub-postmaster about IT problems, promises CEO.March 2015:Post Office ends working group for IT system investigation day before potentially damaging report.March 2015:MPs seek reassurance over Post Office mediation scheme.March 2015:Retiring MP aims to uncover truth of alleged Post Office computer system problems.April 2015:Post Office failed to investigate account shortfalls before legal action, report claims.April 2015:Criminal Courts Review Commission set to review sub-postmasters’ claims of wrongful prosecution.May 2015:IT system related to sub-postmaster prosecutions under review by CCRC.June 2015:Post Office looking to replace controversial Horizon system with IBM, says MP.July 2015:Campaigners call for independent inquiry into Post Office Horizon IT system dispute.October 2015:James Arbuthnot takes Post Office IT fight to House of Lords.November 2015:The union that represents Post Office sub-postmasters has warned of a problem with the Horizon accounting system.November 2015:An email from Post Office IT support reveals a problem with the Horizon system and supporting processes that could lead to accounting errors.November 2015:Group litigation against Post Office being prepared in Horizon dispute.February 2016:Post Office faces group litigation over Horizon IT as sub-postmasters fund class action.June 2016:Post Office chairman Tim Parker says there would be “considerable risk” associated with changing its Horizon computer system.November 2016:The legal team hired by a group of sub-postmasters will take their case to the next stage.

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