Alan Bates and Others v Post Office Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeMr Justice Fraser
Judgment Date16 December 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] EWHC 3408 (QB)
Date16 December 2019
Docket NumberCase No: HQ16X01238, HQ17X02637 and HQ17X04248
CourtQueen's Bench Division

[2019] EWHC 3408 (QB)




Rolls Building

Fetter Lane

London, EC4A 1NL


THE HONOURABLE Mr Justice Fraser

Case No: HQ16X01238, HQ17X02637 and HQ17X04248

Alan Bates and Others
Post Office Limited

Patrick Green QC, Kathleen Donnelly, Ognjen Miletic and Reanne MacKenzie for the Claimants (instructed by Freeths LLP)

Antony de Garr Robinson QC, Simon Henderson, Owain Draper and Rebecca Keating for the Defendant (instructed by Womble Bond Dickinson LLP)

Judgment (No.6) “Horizon Issues”

Hearing dates: 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 27 March; 3, 9 and 12 April; 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13 and 14 June 2019; 1 and 2 July 2019

Draft distributed to parties on 28 November 2019

Mr Justice Fraser

This judgment is part of the long-running legal dispute between the claimants, who are all either former or serving sub-post masters and sub-post mistresses (“SPMs”), and the Post Office. All the SPMs in the litigation had contracted with the Post Office at different times to run branch Post Offices in different locations across the country. The Post Office introduced a computer system called Horizon in 2000 across all its branches. That was changed in 2010 to an online version called Horizon Online or HNG-X, and the former version is now called Legacy Horizon. The claimants' case is essentially that both Legacy Horizon and Horizon Online (which used many elements of the existing system) were or are unreliable, and this led to unexplained shortfalls and discrepancies in their branch accounts. The Post Office denies this, asserting that the systems were and are robust, and extremely unlikely to be the cause of such matters. There are numerous different causes of action brought against the Post Office, and the Post Office counterclaims against the claimants, including seeking damages for fraud. This is group litigation under CPR Part 19.


This judgment concerns the operation and functionality of the Horizon system itself. It follows the lengthy Common Issues judgment, which is Judgment (No.3). That judgment was extremely long, for two main reasons. It concerned six different claimants, each of whom had contracted with the Post Office at different times, and each of those six claimants' cases concerned very different facts. Very few of the material facts relating to contract formation were agreed for any of these six, and therefore factual findings had to be made for each of them in this respect. Approximately 500 paragraphs were necessary to do this. Although first instance judgments must be reasoned so that parties understand the outcome (and so that any judgment can be subject to appropriate review), very lengthy judgments can be difficult to follow. If a judgment becomes too long, or too technical, it can be counterproductive to wider understanding on the part of those not immersed in the fine detail of every aspect of the case.


I have therefore included technical detail about the Horizon system, its operation, and some aspects of the technical evidence, in a Technical Appendix to this judgment. The contents of that appendix should not be seen as being of subordinate effect to the contents of the judgment itself; this is done simply for the convenience of readers. It is also intended that readers who do need to immerse themselves in technical matters to a very fine level of detail may not find it necessary to study the appendix, and reading the judgment alone may be sufficient. Notwithstanding that approach, however, this judgment too is extremely long. This is due to the complexity of the Horizon system, which even for computer systems is extraordinarily complicated for the reasons explained below; the period of time over which the complaints range (which starts with the introduction of Horizon in 2000 and runs to date); and due to the way that the litigation has unfolded. There are some matters in this judgment that go to issues affecting the group litigation going forwards, such as disclosure, which have increased its length. It is also the case that this litigation is being very strongly contested on both sides. I have endeavoured to provide a reasonable level of detail to explain my findings on the Horizon Issues to assist both sides as much as possible. Finally, the only findings that are made in this judgment are those necessary to come to conclusions on the Horizon Issues. All other matters in all the claims of the claimants and the counterclaims by the Post Office remain for decision in later judgments.


This judgment is in the following parts:


Paragraph no.

A. Introduction


B. The Horizon Issues


C. Features of this Group Litigation


D. Evidence of Fact: The Claimants


E. Evidence of Fact: The Post Office


F. Documents and Available Information


G. The Experts' Agreements


H. The Period 21 March 2019 to 4 June 2019


I. The Expert Evidence


J. Conclusion on Expert Evidence


K. Audit Data


L. Overall Conclusions


M. Answers to the Horizon Issues



Technical Appendix


Summary of bugs, errors and defects



A. Introduction


These proceedings are being conducted pursuant to a Group Litigation Order (“GLO”) made on 22 March 2017 by Senior Master Fontaine, and approved by the President of the Queen's Bench Division. A more comprehensive introduction to the issues generally between the parties is contained at [2] to [43] of Judgment (No.3) “Common Issues”, which is at [2019] EWHC 606 (QB). Other judgments concerning procedural rather than substantive issues, are the first Judgment at [2017] EWHC 2844 (QB) and Judgment (No.2) “Strike Out” at [2018] EWHC 2698 (QB). During the Horizon Issues trial which is the subject of this judgment, the Post Office issued an application that I recuse myself as Managing Judge in this group litigation, and stop the Horizon Issues trial, so that it could be recommenced at some later date in the future (before a replacement Managing Judge). That application was refused and the judgment is at Judgment (No.4) “Recusal Application” at [2019] EWHC 871 (QB). Permission to appeal was refused by the single Lord Justice on 9 May 2019. There is also Judgment (No.5) “Common Issues Costs” at [2019] EWHC 1373 (QB) which made various orders in respect of the costs of the Common Issues trial, a hearing in respect of that having taken place on 23 May 2019.


This trial concerns what the parties referred to at the case management stage as the Horizon Issues. The intention behind the case management of this litigation was that the contractual issues (which were called the “Common Issues” and affected all the claimants) and the computer issues relating to the operation, functionality and reliability of the Horizon system (which were called the “Horizon Issues”, and also affected all the claimants) would be resolved first. The parties needed time to prepare for these two trials, which took place in late 2018 (for the Common Issues) and into the spring of 2019 (for this one), in particular to perform disclosure, and prepare and serve evidence. For the Horizon Issues, this included expert evidence, for which I gave permission, from two IT experts, one for the claimants (Mr Coyne) and one for the Post Office (Dr Worden).


The recusal application caused significant delay and disruption to the Horizon Issues trial. Originally, that trial had been programmed to finish (including delivery of oral closing submissions) by 11 April 2019, a date which became unachievable as a result of that application. Following Judgment (No.4) the remaining witness of fact for the Post Office to be called in person, Mr Parker, a senior Fujitsu employee, was called on 11 April 2019.


The two IT experts could not be called until 4 June 2019 onwards. The two experts therefore had a period of some weeks, following on from the evidence of fact, before they were called to give their oral evidence. There was therefore an interval between 11 April 2019 and 4 June 2019 when the experts were called. Their evidence collectively took two court weeks.


The effect of this interruption upon the trial timetable meant that there was therefore time available for each of the experts to consider the full scope of the cross-examination of the factual witnesses that had taken place some weeks before, and reflect (with more time than is usual for experts whilst a trial is underway) upon whether that impacted upon their views. Experts are supposed to consider the factual evidence advanced by both sides in litigation neutrally, and if witnesses are cross-examined, then – at least potentially – other evidence that might emerge ought, if it is important, to be considered by those experts in arriving at their final opinions given in evidence. In a conventional trial, expert evidence will usually follow on almost immediately after the evidence of fact has been heard. This means that, in practical terms, most experts will only have a very short time in which to consider any potentially important factual developments in any case before they are themselves cross-examined. Here, there was no such restriction.


The Horizon Issues trial timetable was therefore different to a conventional trial in this respect, because the vast majority of the oral factual evidence, with the single exception of Mr Parker's evidence, was completed by 21 March 2019. That is 75 days, or almost 11 weeks, before Mr Coyne was called by the claimants, and even longer before Dr Worden was called by the Post Office. The approach of the experts to the opportunity presented by that interval further to assist the court with their evidence is notable, in my judgment. I will deal with this further in Parts H and I of this judgment. For a more detailed...

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3 cases
  • Josephine Hamilton & Others v Post Office Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
    • 23 April 2021
    ...and Pamela Lock are allowed on both Grounds. Accordingly, all of their respective convictions are quashed. 1 [2019] EWHC 606 (QB) 2 [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB) 3 [2021] EWCA Crim 21 4 See paragraph [36] above 5 See paragraph [23] above 6 See paragraph [69] above 7 See paragraph [23] above 8 Ho......
  • Margaret White v Post Office Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
    • 31 March 2022 claimants representing hundreds of SPMs. Amongst other passages, we quoted from paragraph 968 of his “Horizon Issues” judgment, [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB), in which he found that it was possible for bugs, errors or defects in Horizon to have the potential both to cause apparent shortfalls re......
  • Upper Tribunal (Immigration and asylum chamber), 2024-03-11, UI-2022-002694 & UI-2022-002695
    • United Kingdom
    • Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)
    • 11 March 2024
    ...serious allegations of theft and false accounting in reliance on computer systems. In Alan Bates and Others v Post Office Limited [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB), Fraser J resolved various issues in group litigation between the Post Office and a number of sub-postmasters, arising from alleged defects......
2 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2021, December 2021
    • 1 December 2021
    ...11 November 2010. 38 They formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance: . 39 Bates v Post Office Ltd (No 6: Horizon Issues) (Rev 1) [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB) at [440]. 40 Bates v Post Office Ltd (No 3) [2019] EWHC 606 (QB) and Bates v the Post Office Ltd (No 6: Horizon Issues) (Rev 1) [2019] ......
  • Digital evidence in defence practice: Prevalence, challenges and expertise
    • United Kingdom
    • Sage International Journal of Evidence & Proof, The No. 27-3, July 2023
    • 1 July 2023
    ...tablets,WiFi routers, cameras and gaming consoles, Internet of Things, connected vehicles and wireless sensors.2. Bates vPost Off‌ice [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB); Hamilton vPost Off‌ice [2021] EWCA Crim 577.3. See Evidence Based Justice Lab, Danny Steven Kay. https://evidencebasedjustice.exeter.a......

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