Representatives of subpostmasters who have lost funds or their businesses due to accounting discrepancies have been given the green light to pursue a legal claim against Post Office Limited.
The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) announced today that the Group Litigation Order (GLO) against Post Office Ltd has now been approved by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, which means that the case will continue through the court as a group action. Post Office Ltd is defending the claim.
Over 1,000 subpostmasters from across the UK have now applied to join the action, according to JFSA. While the grounds of the case may be subject to revision as the matter proceeds, the claim hinges on the nature of the contract between the subpostmasters and Post Office Ltd regarding the Horizon operating system, and the way in which Post Office has dealt with alleged shortfalls recorded by the system.
According to JFSA, the claim covers training and support, the proper recording of transactions, liability for claimants to pay alleged shortfalls of cash or stock and the processes for identifying, investigating and recovering shortfalls. The claim will also look at Post Office Ltd’s rights to terminate subpostmaster contracts and will examine issues of “good faith, fair dealing, transparency, co-operation and trust and confidence.”
Alan Bates of the JFSA said: “The case is now up and running and we have had over 1,000-plus candidates come forward so far. Subpostmasters now have until 26 July to join the action before the cut-off, which prevents new claimants joining the claim thereafter.
“Subpostmasters have brought the claim to force Post Office Ltd to accept responsibility for the flaws in its Horizon operating system, for its refusal properly to investigate accounting shortfalls and for its shoddy and careless treatment of postmasters who have lost their liberty, livelihood or savings because Post Office Ltd wrongly accused many of them of theft or fraud. As well as a court finding of responsibility, the claimant group will be seeking appropriate financial compensation in respect of loss and damage suffered.”
The claim also seeks to establish whether subpostmasters were placed under duress by Post Office Ltd when they signed off incorrect accounts or when they resigned, and whether Post Office Ltd acted ‘unconscionably’ - beyond what would be considered normal commercial bargaining - and whether individuals may have been unlawfully harassed.
The Post Office welcomed the clarity on the legal position. In a statement, the organisation said: ”The Post Office welcomes the Group Litigation Order as offering the best opportunity for the matters in dispute to be heard and resolved. We welcome the progress that has been made, but will not otherwise comment on litigation whilst it is ongoing. We continue to have confidence in the robustness of the Horizon system which has around 78,000 users across 11,600 branches nationwide to process six million transactions a day.”
The JFSA added any subpostmaster who was in post since 1999 and experienced issues with Post Office Limited and its Horizon system including alleged shortfalls or discrepancies or other issues from using the system, may be eligible to join the case. For more information visit www.poclaims.co.uk, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 304 7727.