The High Court has approved the group litigation order (GLO) brought against the Post Office by sub-postmasters who allege they have been wrongly punished for computer errors. About 1,000 people have now applied to take part in the action.
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In January, a High Court judge granted the GLO, which has now been approved by the president of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.
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 operating system and its supporting processes.
The action, instigated by the Justice For Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) campaign group, has attracted about 1,000 sub-postmasters who want to join the action. Not all will do so, but there will be an increase on the 198 sub-postmasters currently involved.
The action focuses on the true nature of the contract between the sub-postmasters and the Post Office in terms of the Horizon system, and the way in which the Post Office has dealt with alleged shortfalls.
Alan Bates of the JFSA said: “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 Post Office denies the claims, and when the GLO was granted in January, it said it “welcomed the progress made” but said it will not otherwise comment on live litigation.
Sub-postmasters have until 26 July to join the action before the cut-off that prevents new claimants joining the claim.
The claim also seeks to establish whether sub-postmasters were put under duress by the Post Office when they signed off incorrect accounts or when they resigned, said Bates. “We are looking to establish that the Post Office acted unconscionably, in other words harshly, oppressively or beyond what would be considered normal commercial bargaining,” he said. “If that was the case, we will seek to establish whether this has a bearing on either the signing of the accounts or forced resignations.”
Bates added: “There are concerns that individuals may have been unlawfully harassed and also whether the Post Office can be held liable for damages in terms of the stigma created around the affected sub-postmasters, for their loss of reputation and the stress caused as a result of these serious breaches of legal obligations.”
Separately, the Criminal Cases Review Commission is also reviewing prosecutions of sub-postmasters for account shortfalls and is looking at 30 claims of wrongful prosecution.
Post Office Horizon: Timeline of events