Post Office Scandal | Post Office Horizon | Group Actions – Freeths

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“The Post Office case is less about a failed computer system and more about the way a corporate responded to the issue.”
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James Hartley, Partner and National Head of Dispute Resolution, is of no doubt that, had Post Office Limited considered the potential human impact of a flaw in its Horizon accounting system, and looked at the evidence holistically, it would have avoided the catastrophic human damage inflicted on thousands of its postmasters and averted the PR disaster that unfolded.
Instead, Post Office not only failed to avert the disaster, but when problems arose it compounded matters by taking a stance of “…defend, defend, defend; deny, deny, deny”, which led to a major defeat in the High Court, huge compensatory pay outs, irredeemable reputational damage and a scandal that has become known as the worst miscarriage of justice in British history.
James’ observations are derived from a long career in commercial dispute resolution and from more than six years working on the Post Office case, in which he and his team secured justice for 555 postmasters and exposed Post Office’s unlawful actions.
Over a 14-year period, Government-owned Post Office Limited prosecuted more than 700 postmasters for theft and false accounting. Its evidence came principally from data produced by the flawed Horizon computerised point of sale system. As a result, victims faced criminal convictions, were left financially ruined when debts were pursued by Post Office, and many were ostracised from their families and communities.
Post Office denied any wrongdoing for many years. Our legal team, led by James, successfully fought and won the legal battle on behalf of 555 claimant postmasters. Post Office eventually settled the case and issued a formal apology, paying £57.75m in compensation and agreeing to implement a compensation scheme for thousands of other affected postmasters. The historic case also led to a public inquiry and the quashing of hundreds of wrongful criminal convictions.
In 2022, the Government agreed to implement an additional compensation scheme to ensure that the 555 claimants are properly compensated for having to fight the legal case and incur litigation funding costs which unfairly depleted their recoveries in the High Court.
In fighting this and other complex litigation cases, James’ team is now widely considered to be one of the foremost dispute resolution teams in the UK. The team handles more High Court litigation in the UK than any other law firm.
 
The team regularly advises its corporate clients on strategies to avoid group actions, or collective proceedings as they are often known in the UK.
As such, they are keen to share their experience and expertise, so that other large corporates learn from Post Office’s lessons. And while the Freeths team in that instance fought for the claimants, their primary focus is with corporates applying the deep insight gained in the case to reduce the risk of this type of litigation and to devise sophisticated resolution strategies when problems do occur.
The number of group actions against companies continues to increase, so there is more need than ever to manage the risks proactively.
James explained: “Post Office conducted criminal prosecutions over many years, without its board once stepping in to stop it happening. The warning signs were nevertheless there.”
Your business should be conscious of the threat of group actions and other high-stakes litigation. The steps you can take to manage these risks include:
 
If you need the support of the UK’s foremost Dispute Resolution team, or would like to find out more about how you can protect your business from group actions, please contact James Hartley at james.hartley@freeths.co.uk
James Hartley
Partner
0345 077 9581
Imogen Randall
Director
0345 077 9582
Chloe Oram
Senior Associate
0345 030 5801
Angélique Richardson
Associate
0345 404 4130
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