Does the Post Office Horizon IT dispute boil down to this?

By Tony Collins

In the High Court today,  the Post Office will argue for the judge in the Horizon IT trials to sack himself.

The Post Office is concerned that the judge’s criticisms of the Post Office in his first judgement could affect his future three judgements. The Post Office accuses the judge, Sir Peter Fraser QC, of bias.

Given the thousands of pages of legal documents that relate to the four trials in this dispute,  it is easy to assume that the arguments are hard to grasp for anyone new to the case.  But the issue at stake in the Post Office Horizon IT trials is a simple one:

  • who is to be believed – system owner or user –  when one side says the computer system was robust and reliable and the other side says it wasn’t working as originally intended and was producing unexpected outputs?

The Post Office says in essence: the losses shown on Horizon were real and were the user’s responsibility, the users in this case being sub-postmasters.

The users’ counter-argument is in essence: we didn’t take any money and the losses shown on an imperfect Horizon were unexpected outputs. Not our fault.

It’s the same argument when there are major incidents that involve planes or autonomous cars:

  •  is the aircraft or car manufacturer correct when asserting that it was the user’s fault (pilot or driver).
  • Or is the manufacturer not owning up to IT faults and blaming the user?

Major aviation incidents are investigated independently by statutory bodies. But the Post Office is not automatically subject to any statutory investigation when its IT is alleged to have gone wrong.

It could be said that the four High Court trials over the Horizon branch accounting system are the equivalent of the aviation world’s statutory independent investigation.

The big difference is that Boeing or Airbus cannot ask for the head of an independent inquiry into suspected IT problems after major incidents to be sacked. The Post Office can.

Postofficetrial – coverage by Nick Wallis

Post Office could face huge bill for first Horizon trial – Karl Flinders, Computer Weekly

12 responses to “Does the Post Office Horizon IT dispute boil down to this?

  1. Iain Tarron

    Lets not forget the Post Office has previous on this.
    When the previous investigation into IT problems by independent company Second Sight threw up answers not to their liking, they …….. sacked Second Sight and closed the mediation scheme that was supposed to resolve all there historic problems without recourse to law.

    The most heart breaking (for the claimants) and outrageous (for the public purse) aspect of all this is, having had assorted claimants statements vindicated by the evidence (eg the famous £1092 error), reinforced by Fujitsus evidence that they routinely wandered in and out of individual POs systems , and having had further evidence that they occasionally made mistakes that ended up costing subpostmasters money….leaving aside any claimed “bias”, the hard facts, as testified to by Post Office OWN witnesses, have IMHO tipped the scales firmly in the claimants favour.

    If they have taken any lead from the Govt, it is obviously of the “running down the clock/exhausting the claimants resources” variety

    Without the Brexit saga, this case would be front page/top of the programme headline news

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Iain, Well put.
      The ‘delaying’ tactic is well used by government and its agencies. Much to their disgrace for deploying it, and our shame for allowing it. If ‘they’ have access to limitless funds, ‘we’ have concepts of justice, truth and decency – none of which is of interest compared with limitless funds.


    • yes it is a pity the case has not had more coverage. There is still time.


  2. Lord Grabiner’s criterion is – what a fair-minded and informed observer would conclude.
    Here I am!
    Having scanned witness statements and the evidence given in court, I think the PO HQ personnel should be marched into the Tower of London and incarcerated permanently.
    However, I find our politicians ultimately responsible for allowing such appallingly wicked people to have access to taxpayers’ money.
    It is these third-rate people who are destroying everything worthwhile that this country once stood for.
    I’ll have to stop now before I disgrace myself.
    Thanks, Tony, for this resource.


  3. Any bias the judge may have now is likely the result of his experience in hearing the evidence and arguments over the past trials. If that goes against the Post Office, it has only itself to blame. It can’t be right for the Post Office to ask for a new judge every time a trial goes against it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the summary, Tony.

    What is of particular concern, out of so many concerns this trial has highlighted, is that there is an impression of tactics being deployed which render the pursuit of justice too expensive to obtain.

    As government money supports one side – which offends me greatly – surely funds should be available for the other. Alternatively, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Parliament would intervene, not to interfere with due process, but to enforce a meaningful mediation process, preferably headed by someone with as much knowledge and integrity as Sir Peter Fraser.



  5. For the Post Office, IT stands for Infallible Technology.

    I hope the Judge stays on the case and that this attempt to undermine accountability and the rule of law fails.

    Liked by 1 person

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