I am today announcing the scope of the Independent Review into the Post Office Horizon IT System and Trials which the Prime Minister committed to on 26th February 2020. This followed Post Office Ltd reaching a settlement, in December 2019, of £57.75m to conclude a long-running case brought against it by a group of postmasters over issues related to Post Office’s Horizon IT system.
The longstanding dispute and subsequent trials relating to the Post Office Horizon IT system have had a hugely negative impact on affected postmasters and their families. These events have deeply affected postmasters’ lives: their livelihoods, their financial situation, their reputations and, for some, also their physical and mental health. In his judgments in the “Common Issues” and “Horizon Issues” trials, Mr Justice Fraser identified significant failings within Post Office Ltd over nearly two decades, particularly in relation to the treatment of postmasters and in its management culture.
Under its new CEO, Nick Read, Post Office Ltd has admitted it got things wrong in relation to the Horizon case and has apologised. It has also started to take steps to reset the relationship with postmasters. These are important moves in the right direction. However, given the very serious impacts this case has had on many individual postmasters, more needs to be done.
Government wants to be fully assured that through the review there is a public summary of the failings that occurred at Post Office Ltd, drawing on the judgments from the Horizon case and by listening to those that have been most affected; that lessons have genuinely been learned; and that concrete changes have taken place at Post Office Ltd to ensure that this situation will never be repeated. For these reasons Government has decided to establish an Independent Review.
The Independent Review shall:
- Understand and acknowledge what went wrong in relation to Horizon, leading to the Group Litigation Order, by drawing on evidence from the Horizon judgments and affected postmasters’ experiences and identify what key lessons must be learned for the future;
- Assess whether the Post Office Ltd has learned the lessons from the criticisms made by Mr Justice Fraser in the “Common Issues” and “Horizon Issues” trials and those identified by affected postmasters and has delivered or made good progress on the organisational and cultural changes necessary to ensure a similar case does not happen in the future;
- Assess whether the commitments made by Post Office Ltd within the mediation settlement – including the historical shortfall scheme – have been properly delivered;
- Assess whether the processes and information provided by Post Office Ltd to postmasters are sufficient to i) enable both parties to meet their contractual obligations; and ii) to enable postmasters to run their businesses. This includes assessing whether Post Office Ltd’s related processes such as recording and resolving postmaster queries, dispute handling, suspension and termination are fit for purpose. In addition, determine whether the quality of the service offer for postmasters and?their relationship with Post?Office?Ltd has materially improved since the conclusions by Mr Justice Fraser; and
- Examine the governance and whistleblowing controls now in place at Post Office Ltd and whether they are sufficient to ensure that the failings that led to the Horizon case issues do not happen again.
The Review will be led by an independent chair who will be announced in due course alongside final timings and terms of reference for the Review.
The Review shall set out Post Office Ltd’s actions in response to the findings of Mr Justice Fraser. While avoiding a re-examination of the findings made by Mr Justice Fraser through the lengthy court proceedings, it must use these and the experiences of affected postmasters as the basis for its work. The Review should not encroach on the work of the Criminal Case Review Commission and the Court of Appeal. The Review should make any recommendations it sees fit, including actions that may, in its view, be appropriate as a result of its findings. The final report will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses upon completion of the review.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords