The government has announced some details of its compensation scheme for the civil claimants in the Bates v Post Office litigation. You can read the ‘process document’ here.
The scheme will be run by BEIS, the government’s business department, and overseen by an ‘independent advisory board’ to ‘ensure the scheme works effectively’.
Although there is no mention of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance in the press release, the independent advisory board includes Lord Arbuthnot and Kevan Jones MP, both of whom have campaigned for more than a decade for Subpostmasters.
The new business minister, Grant Shapps says:
“I am acutely aware of the pain and suffering that these postmasters and their families have been through as part of the Horizon IT scandal. As Business Secretary I will always stand by them.
Today’s compensation scheme will ensure these trailblazing postmasters who did so much to uncover this injustice receive the compensation they deserve.”
(“Always stand by them”, eh?)
I spoke just now to Kevan Jones, who told me he is not fully across the detail of how the scheme is supposed to work and, crucially, he does not know which firm of lawyers will be running it (though he did say Freeths had advised on the matter), but he did tell me the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance were involved in setting it up and that, importantly, the Post Office are ‘nowhere near it’.
Jones thinks the scheme is ‘a major step forward’ and an opportunity to get ‘the money out of the door quite quickly’ so the claimants ‘don’t get bogged down in litigation’.
He says it will run on a ‘tariff’ basis for various categories of loss including financial and mental health, reputation etc. The independent advisory board will sit across the operation of the scheme but won’t be ‘sitting in judgment on individual cases’. Essentially, he says, ‘if there are complaints from the participants then we can raise them with the minister.
I put to him the JFSA’s case that no scheme is fair until it has put claimants back in the position they would have been had they never come into contact with the Horizon IT system. Jones replied: ‘that’s exactly where we’ve got to get to.’
Lord Arbuthnot told me:
‘I have to do what I can to make this scheme as good as possible – I must not just sit on the sidelines and criticise. My understanding is that the oversight board is something that Alan Bates has been calling for for a long time, so I hope he will be pleased now that it’s happening.’
In terms of how quickly things will get going, Lord A said: ‘I gather the first meeting should be this month, which is good. We must ensure that speed goes hand in hand with fairness to give the subpostmasters the compensation they deserve and need.’
With regard to his and Lord Arbuthnot’s involvement in the scheme Kevan Jones told me they have both been campaigning so long ‘we’re not going to suddenly sell out at the last minute’ and ‘if we’re not happy with it we’ll say we’re not happy with it.’
Start prepping now
Subpostmasters are being told to start preparing their claims ‘today’ in advance of the scheme opening for applications in the new year. The government says it will pay £900 per claimant as part of reasonable legal fees to prepare their claim.
Qualification for this scheme is limited to the Bates v Post Office claimants were excluded from the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall Scheme on the grounds that the High Court settlement, announced in December 2019, was full, final and binding. Despite blowing the doors off the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, the claimants were locked into a deal which saw them sharing (after deductions) approximately £12m between the 555.
In March this year, the then Postal Affairs minister, Paul Scully, announced the government had reversed its position and was going to give proper compensation to Subpostmasters. Today’s scheme is a development of that announcement.
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