The civil service may face an investigation into maladministration over Post Office IT scandal

By Tony Collins

Campaigners for justice over the Horizon IT scandal have launched a bid to raise £98.000 to try and hold the civil service to account over its failed oversight of the Post Office that allowed the scandal to continue unchecked for years.

It comes as the Post Office continues to defend its actions over the Horizon controversy, raising questions about whether its culture has changed in the sixteen years since sub-postmaster Alan Bates  began his campaign to elicit the truth about the Horizon system.

The Post Office’s latest bout of defensiveness has come to the fore thanks to journalist Nick Wallis’ 10-part BBC R4 series on the Horizon scandal, The Great Post Office Trial, which continues every day this week at 13.45.

A theme running through several of the episodes in the series is that the Post Office is still defending itself over the Horizon controversy. Last year, following a group legal action brought by Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance [JFSA], the High Court strongly criticised the Post Office’s conduct, actions and truthfulness in its dealings with sub-postmasters and during the litigation itself.

The institution’s apparent lack of remorse – it has given an apology for “past” events but not its conduct during the litigation – may add force to the JFSA’s appeal for crowd-funding to launch a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

The Alliance wants funding for a QC to prepare a complaint about the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its predecessor organisation BIS.  The department was supposed to oversee the Post Office but repeatedly defended it while sub-postmasters went to prison, lost their livelihoods, made bankrupt and handed over their life savings to the Post Office, because of discrepancies shown on a flawed Horizon system.

The Alliance also wants the role of government as a stakeholder on the Post Office board to be investigated.

Maladministration is defined as a public body’s not having acted properly or fairly, or having given a poor service and not put things right. At the time the Ombudsman office was established, Richard Crossman, the then Leader of the House of Commons, defined maladministration as including “bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, inaptitude, perversity, turpitude, arbitrariness and so on”.

If crowd-funding succeeds in raising £98,000 and the JFSA’s QC puts forward a strong argument for redress, the Ombudsman has no executive powers to award compensation but can recommend a financial remedy.

The principles underlying the Ombudsman’s work is that, where it is established that maladministration or poor service has resulted in an injustice or hardship, the public body restores to complainants the position they would have been in had the maladministration or poor service not occurred. If that is not possible, the Ombudsman can suggest the public body provides appropriate compensation.

A typical Ombudsman investigation takes six months but could be delayed by the pandemic.

Those who want to contribute to the campaign can pledge money via this crowd-funding site. Money is collected only if the £98,000 target is met.

The Great Post Office Trial

Subpostmasters to force scrutiny of governments’ role in Post Office IT scandal – Computer Weekly’s Karl Flinders

The case for a statutory public inquiry into Post Office Horizon scandal – Eleanor Shaikh

2 responses to “The civil service may face an investigation into maladministration over Post Office IT scandal

  1. Thank you for the update, Tony.

    The quest for justice is one we should all invest in. The behaviour of the Post Office Management and of Government has been, and is, a malign disgrace. And, like so many malignancies, if not suitably addressed, it will spread.

    Wishing the subpostmasters every success.

    Like

    • Thanks Zara. If a private company were to allow its computer system create non-existent debts which it then forced hundreds of bewildered people to pay, it would probably be a matter for the Serious Fraud Office. But when it’s a public institution involved, the consequences are another lesson-learning government review. And the bewildered people whose money was removed to pay the institution’s non-existent debts are having to raise more money in order to make a legal case to have their money returned.
      All this is compounded by the amorphous civil service which was supposed to oversee the institution and whose chief message seems to be: “We must not hold anyone accountable.”
      Let’s hope the crowd-funding bid to raise £98,000 for a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman is successful. It is the only practical way to try and hold the civil service to account over the Post Office Horizon affair.
      Tony.
      Link to donate:
      https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/post-office-victims/

      Liked by 1 person

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