A trial in the group action case against the Post Office has been suspended after an application was made to recuse the judge overseeing the case.
The latest trial, one of several in Bates & Ors v Post Office Ltd in which subpostmasters blame alleged accounting errors on the office’s IT system, has been suspended until 3 April after the Post Office requested that Mr Justice Peter Fraser be recused.
The Group Litigation Order (GLO) is split into several separate trials. Last week, Peter Fraser J ruled on the first of the trials which focused on the contractual relationship between the Post Office and its subpostmasters. The suspended trial focuses on the IT system named Horizon.
In judgment on the first trial Peter Fraser J said the Post Office showed ‘oppressive behaviour’ to claimants.
The application for recusal is reportedly on the grounds that the judge’s ruling suggested he had already formed an opinion on matters yet to be discussed in current and future trials. The Post Office did not comment on this. It is based on a witness statement submitted by transatlantic firm Womble Bond Dickinson, representing the Post Office. The firm declined to comment when contacted by the Gazette.
A Post Office spokesperson said it had reflected ‘in great depth on the proceedings and detailed judgment’ from the first trial.
‘As part of this, we have made an application for the sitting judge to be recused from the ongoing and upcoming trials. We are acutely aware of the significance of this application.’
The spokesperson added: ‘We will continue with our improvement programme and are urgently considering how we can accelerate this work and address certain of the criticisms about our operations raised in the judgment. We recognise that we must always continue to do better in the interests of our customers and postmasters.
‘We continue to believe that resolution of the group litigation remains the best opportunity to resolve long-standing issues in order to ensure a stable and sustainable Post Office network for the benefit of the communities who rely on our services every single day.’
A spokesperson for the Judiciary told the Gazette: 'The trial has been paused so that the Post Office’s application to remove the managing judge can be considered. Directions have been given for service of evidence and skeleton arguments concerning that application. The hearing will take place on 3 April 2019.’