Wednesday 7 November 2018

Trial Day 1 - morning session

This is going to be a very quick post as we have 31 minutes to be back in court for the afternoon session.

The morning was given over to the JFSA's QC Patrick Green who took the judge through the key parts of the JFSA's skeleton arguments (which I now have and will write up later).

The morning was interesting for two pieces of evidence, both internal Post Office memos, both of which only came from disclosure through this trial - one by a manager which clearly states that one of the lead claimants, Pam Stubbs, was having problems in her branch and Horizon was clearly the source of her problems. This, the QC said, directly contradicts the Post Office's assertion (made in its generic defence to the claim) that no claimant had suffered problems in their branch as a result of Horizon.

The second was an explosive document about a system-wide Horizon error in 2012 which was causing losses in branches. This was discussed on internal email by a group of PO people. Three options were discussed for dealing with the error, which included getting Fujitsu to go into individual Subpostmaster branches and changing the accounts without their knowledge. It was discussed as a matter of fact, not conjecture (all three options were given impact and risk assessments) and makes it quite plain that a decent number of people at the Post Office had more control of individual branch accounts than it likes to admit.

The main thrust of Green's argument appears to be that the Post Office has a massive power imbalance when it comes to the relationship between Post Office and individual Subpostmasters - not just in terms of scale, but as Green said - in terms of information, contract, and "mechanical and practical". He is using examples, such as the internal memos above to illustrate his point. They not only contradict the statements the Post Office has been making publicly and to its Subpostmasters (which is what is of interest to me as a journalist), but how that affects the implied terms of the contractual relationship between Subpostmasters and the Post Office.

It doesn't matter, though, if what happened to the claimants was unfair, it matters if it was unlawful. The grey area is that the law requires certain aspects of certain relationships to be fair by what is implied in any contract. I think.

Anyway all back in for the afternoon session. The Post Office's QC David Cavender is making his argument. The thrust being:

"What the claimaints are trying to do is water down the agency/principle relationship, almost to vanishing point, to say it is basically marginal."

A fuller post tonight!