Monday 3 June 2019

Horizon trial: Re-start Preview

Here we go again...
Ten weeks after the Post Office brought the Horizon trial to a juddering halt with its doomed bid to get the managing judge in the group litigation sacked, we are ready to resume.

Over the last ten weeks the Post Office has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to recuse the judge, appeal that recusal, appeal the first trial judgment, avoid paying a chunk the claimants' legal fees and delay paying a chunk of the claimants' legal fees. It has failed on all fronts.

These setbacks have to be weighed up against the advantages it has gained. The longer and costlier the Post Office makes the litigation for all concerned, the more chance it will collapse, or the claimants' funders will pull the plug. 

Given how badly the Post Office has lost almost every aspect of the litigation so far, and given the Post Office's very existence (by its own admission) is threatened by this legal action, it is a legitimate litigation tactic to drag everything out. After all, if you had bottomless pockets of taxpayer's cash at your disposal, a tacit thumbs up from the government and were fighting for your own survival, you would too.

Concluding the Horizon trial

Over the next four days (4 - 7 June), Jason Coyne, the claimants' independent IT expert, will be grilled by Anthony de Garr Robinson QC, the Post Office's lead barrister for the Horizon trial.

Next week, on 11, 13 and 14 June, the Post Office's independent IT expert Dr Robert Worden will be grilled by Patrick Green QC, the claimants' lead barrister. 

Court is not sitting on 12 June next week, but in court Patrick Green was quite adamant he only needed three days to cross-examine Dr Worden, even though the judge offered him parity.

Court will not sit for the second half of June. Closing arguments will be made in court on 1 and 2 July.

Remind us what this particular trial is about?

The Post Office contends its Horizon IT system is "robust". The claimants have already accepted the Horizon IT system is "relatively robust". 

You could argue the Boeing 737 Max is relatively robust. It's what happens when things go wrong that's important. 

The claimants say problems with Horizon and the Post Office's apparent refusal to deal with those Horizon-related problems in a remotely rational manner is at the root cause of many of their grievances. The Post Office disagrees.

Hopefully the expert evidence from both sides will give us some answers. 

So there we go. 

The taxpayer's cash hose is primed and ready to spray its contents all over those mighty-talented lawyers. Thanks to your contributions, I will be there to report it all as it's actually happening (on twitter - a regularly updated webpage you can view simply by clicking this link).

Then, when each day is done you'll find a report and transcript of the proceedings here on this blog.

If you are part of the secret email club you will also get a short email preview most mornings and a debrief every evening. 

The trial is open to all. If you can come along, be at Court 26 of the High Court's Rolls Building off Fetter Lane in that London at 10.20am tomorrow. Proceedings start 10.30am on the dot.

This blog is entirely funded by donation. You can donate any amount through the secure payment portal I have set up for this purpose (click here for more info or to donate).

If you contribute £20 or more you will be added to the secret email list. This alerts you to the latest developments on this story before they happen, as well as links to new articles and stories, whether posted here on this blog or elsewhere. Thank you for your support.

CWU vs Post Office

Today the Post Office was forced to open another legal front, separate to the Bates and others v Post Office group litigation.

Victory House on Kingsway in London was the scene of the first hearing in an action started last year by the Communications Workers Union, which is trying to establish holiday rights for Subpostmasters.

If the judge accepts the CWU's arguments, it will become a test case for determining whether Subpostmasters are "workers" rather than agents.

Being designated a "worker" confers a number of legal rights, including the right to be paid the minimum wage. In a recent submission to the BEIS select committee inquiry on the Post Office's sustainability as a network, one Subpostmaster calculated his hourly income for one week to be £2.12 (click here, scroll down to Edward Rigg's contribution). The cost implications for the Post Office are enormous.

As you might imagine the Post Office is resisting the CWU's claim with a strategy which does appear to make the legal process take more time and cost far more money than the CWU would like. At today's hearing (according to the CWU - I went along but wasn't allowed in), the CWU's lawyers  argued for a full tribunal hearing this year. The Post Office said that was impossible. 

The Post Office also apparently wants a four week trial, whereas the CWU's legal advisors are adamant the matter can be dealt with in 7 - 10 days.

In the end (again, according to the CWU) it was a score draw - the tribunal won't be held until April 2020 at the earliest, but the judge said there's no way he's giving over four weeks of court time for it.

A final decision on the date of the tribunal and its length will be made on 11 October. Hopefully at an open hearing.

I've asked the Post Office for their perspective on what happened today and will post it as soon as I receive it.

UPDATE: The Post Office says - "This was the first preliminary hearing.  Its purpose was to deal with some administrative matters and fix directions for the management of the case going forward.  A further preliminary hearing has now been listed for October."

If you can, please help keep this crowdfunded public-interest journalism project going by chucking a few quid in the tip jar below. Contributors who give £20 or more will start receiving regular "secret" emails which have all the info and gossip about this litigation as it makes its way through the courts.

If you want to find out a little bit more about the underlying story, click here.
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Accounts 4: at least I've spent less than the Post Office

The Queen's shilling, adjusted for inflation
This is my fourth set of "accounts" since this crowdfunded project was launched in July 2018. We know that, to date, the publicly-funded Post Office has spent at least £18.3m fighting this litigation. My reporting of it, I think, has been slightly better value for money.

If you want to see how the reporting of this story is developing financially, you can see previous "accounts" below:

1. 23 Dec 2018 - Talking Turkey (total cumulative net income - £10,642.52)
2. 10 Mar 2019 - Money Money Money (total cumulative net income - £11,373.98)
3. 17 Apr 2019 - Sterling Works (total cumulative net income - £13,271.79)

The figures are not rounded because both Kickstarter (which I used to launch this project) and PayPal (which I am using to keep it going) take a cut from every contribution before passing it on to me.

The latest

As of 1 June, the total gross income this project has generated is: £9,322 (Kickstarter) + £6,820 (PayPal) = £16,142 which is frankly amazing, so thank you to everyone who has donated everything from £2.50 to £1000 and quite a few significant chunks of money inbetween!

The total net income to date is £8,397 (Kickstarter) and £6,527.56 (PayPal) = £14,924.56

My expenditure so far is as follows:

38 days at £250 a day = £9500
Transcribing costs = £289.03
Mailing list management: £18.89

Total: £9807.92

This means I have £5116.64 left in the pot to cover the rest of the Horizon trial (T2), its outcome and the pre-trial hearings for T3 over summer. The third trial starts in November, and I suspect I will be working on a fundraising drive to try to bring in the cash in to cover that in the autumn.

Just so you know, my £250 day fee covers my time, food, travel, insurances, IT/phone (apart from the mailing list costs), taxes and just about ensures I've got enough left to feed the family and pay the mortgage.

In order to conserve money I do most (but not all) non-court work in my own time, and as such, since the last set of accounts on 17 April I have billed for one day's work, incurred the above transcription and mailing list costs and produced 23 pieces for the blog plus a similar number of secret emails.

Unfortunately I am going to be taking at least £3000 out of the pot over the next few weeks to cover the remainder of the Horizon trial, but I hope those of you who have contributed to this project feel you are getting value for money. If you have any concerns or queries I am happy to give you more detail about where the money goes and how it is spent - just get in touch via the message form in the right hand nav bar of this webpage.

If you have already contributed to this project, please do not donate again until I press the button on another round of official fundraising. I will be passing around the upturned cap in the autumn to see if I can take some more money off you.

If you haven't yet contributed to this project, I would be delighted if you could. The drop down menu below allows you to choose any sum from £2.50 to £1000 and then takes you through to a secure PayPal page to complete the transaction. If you wish to discuss donating more than £1000, please get in touch via the contact form on this website.
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Backers who contribute £20 or more will be put on the secret email list. If you'd like to see a few examples of the "secret" emails, take a look at some recent ones here:

The Daily Mail has a go
Trouble in SPDO country
Appeal application news and urgent request

Funky, huh? If you can afford to donate even just a few quid, I would be eternally grateful. You will be helping keep public-interest journalism alive and ensuring the ins and outs of this fascinating story get told.

If you do donate more than £20 and don't like the secret emails you can unsubscribe easily and immediately. I'll never trouble you again.

Finally, if you like these blog posts but don't want to pay any money, you can subscribe to get them in your email inbox for free using the box on the right hand side of this webpage. Just add your email address and you're away.

Thanks. Nick.