In a damning judgment, the Post Office has been refused permission to appeal a ruling in the favour of former postmasters, as costs in the mammoth group action case continue to rise.
The Post Office is accused of blaming sub postmasters and mistresses (SPMs) for alleged shortfalls in branch accounts since the roll out of a computer system called Horizon. Earlier this month it sought to appeal the judgement of the first trial, known as the ‘common issues trial’.
However, Lord Justice Coulson dismissed the Post Office’s appeal on all 26 grounds, citing ‘a number of reasons which militate against granting the PO permission to appeal’ and comparing the business to a 'a mid-Victorian factory-owner'.
Coulson J said: ‘Many of the Post Office’s difficulties now are self-inflicted. For example, as happened during the trial and on the application for permission to appeal both to the judge, and to this court, the PO has consistently put its arguments much too high. It made sweeping statements about the trial and the judgment which were demonstrably wrong.’
He added: 'Finally, just standing back for a moment, there is an underlying point of common sense or commercial reality which, in my view, runs through every part of this application for permission to appeal. The Post Office describes itself as ‘the nation’s most trusted brand’. Yet this application is founded on the premise that the nation’s most trusted brand was not obliged to treat their SPMs with good faith, and instead entitled to treat them in capricious or arbitrary ways which would not be unfamiliar to a mid-Victorian factory-owner.'
In October it was revealed that parties in the group litigation had already run up legal bills of almost £40m, prompting a warning from the judge that some costs appeared ‘excessive’.
A third trial – labelled the ‘further issues trial’ – is yet to take place. Fraser J said the judgment for the second trial – the Horizons issue trial – is likely to be published this month.
The claimants are represented by commercial firm Freeths, backed by litigation funder Therium Capital. The Post Office is represented by Womble Bond Dickinson and Herbert Smith Freehills.