Over the past few months, Stevens & Bolton has been representing The Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) in its latest endeavour to obtain justice.
The JFSA, on behalf of its 555 subpostmaster members, has been entangled in a decade-long legal battle, which sought to compensate members who wrongfully had their contracts terminated due to the Post Office’s faulty Horizon computer system. Many lost their businesses and homes as a result of having to pay back monies that the faulty system showed as owed. A number were charged with false accounting and theft, and some even received custodial sentences. Yet, this was all due to IT failures and went unchecked for years until exposed in the High Court after a multi-million pound court case.
Despite the Post Office paying £57m to settle the case last year, just £11.5m actually made it into the hands of the 555 members due to the costs of bringing the case. This means that the claimants have only recovered, on average, around 5% of their actual losses. The next stage of the fight is for the JFSA, with the help of Stevens & Bolton, to submit a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman against the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The complaint will allege maladministration within BEIS and Government; the Government was the sole shareholder in the Post Office when hundreds of subpostmasters lost their livelihoods and should have begun investigating the problems when they were first raised by MPs many years ago. Instead, claimants were forced to run and fund the investigation, leaving them significantly out of pocket.
Commenting on the case, Sarah Murray, Head of Dispute Resolution at Stevens & Bolton, said: “Members of the JFSA have been through so much, as a result of the wrongs suffered at the hands of the Post Office. The failure of the Government to intervene has exacerbated their suffering. We are privileged and proud to be assisting the JFSA with the next step on its journey to bring the Government to account for the injustice that its members have suffered.”
Alan Bates, ex-Subpostmaster and JFSA representative, added: “It has taken years, but this is our final chance to uncover those responsible in what has become one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history, which in turn may lead to securing something more for all those who have lost so much. This is why we urgently need the public’s help to assist us fund the legal support we need to take our complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman”.
Kay Linnell, forensic accountant and adviser to JFSA, concluded: “This is about recovering the considerable legal costs incurred by members in taking the Post Office to court to expose inherent faults in the Post Office’s Horizon computer system, the incompetence of the Post Office and the failings of the Government, who as the only shareholder, failed to manage its subsidiary. The 555 claimants who were brave enough to join this group litigation, having already suffered such personal anguish and financial loss, have borne the additional financial burden of funding this action. They cannot recover their funding costs as a result of the Jackson Reforms of 1 April 2013. It cannot be right that individual impecunious litigants, who have succeeded in their case, are excluded from the equitable repayment of the financing costs. We are still striving for justice to be done”.