Friday 27 August 2021

Post Office Horizon Inquiry to consider "redress" for Subpostmasters

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams, has published its first "Provisional list of issues" since being put on a statutory footing. One of the areas it is proposing to examine is the issue of "redress" for Subpostmasters who have fallen foul of the Post Office and its Horizon IT system.

The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance has so far refused to participate in the inquiry unless the government allows it to consider proper compensation for the 555 Subpostmasters who took the Post Office to court. 

The 555 settled with the Post Office in December 2019 for £57.75m, but only around £12m reached the claimants - most of the money went on fees.

Section 142 - 152 of the inquiry's provisional list of issues deals with "Support, representation and redress for SPMs" [SPMs is a common abbreviation for Subpostmasters], with paragraph 152 asking:

"To what extent (if at all) has the creation and implementation of the Historic Shortfall Group Scheme and the Interim Compensation Scheme provided an adequate means for affected SPMs, managers and assistants to obtain redress for the wrongs which they have suffered?"

The 555 Subpostmasters who settled at the High Court have specifically been excluded from the Historical Shortfall Scheme, and only those whose convictions have been quashed qualify for the Interim Compensation Scheme.

A straightforward answer to par 152 from the litigants' perspective would be that the Historical Shortfall Scheme and the Interim Compensation Scheme have not provided an adequate means for (all) affected SPMs, managers and assistants to obtain redress for the wrongs which they have suffered, because there is a group of people who are specifically excluded from both schemes (the 555 minus those who have had their convictions quashed) who have only received partial redress.

Whether the phrasing of par 152 and the wider list of issues is enough to satisfy Alan Bates, the leader of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, should become clear in the next few days. I've asked for a response.

Interim lack of Compensation Scheme

I am starting to hear worrying news that the Post Office is refusing to make interim payments to Subpostmasters whose convictions were overturned at Southwark Crown Court. Last month the government announced the above-mentioned Interim Compensation Scheme would make interim payments of up to £100,000 to Subpostmasters whose convictions have been quashed. One Subpostmaster (who wishes to remain anonymous) has already been told he will receive the full £100,000. His conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal because his original convictions was at a crown court.

Subpostmasters who were convicted in magistrates' courts have to have their convictions overturned at a crown court. So far, eight Subpostmasters have had their convictions overturned at Southwark Crown Court. I am told that at least one of these Subpostmasters has been refused any interim payment and more than one source has told me this may have something to do with the way the convictions were overturned. I have asked the Post Office for more information.


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