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Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry

Volume 681: debated on Wednesday 30 September 2020

I am today announcing final terms of reference for the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. The inquiry follows the conclusion of the group litigation involving postmasters and Post Office Limited (Post Office Ltd) in December 2019, the Prime Minister’s commitment on 26 February 2020 and my written statement of 10 June 2020.

The Horizon dispute and court case has been ongoing for many years and has had a hugely negative impact on affected postmasters and their families. In his judgments in the “Common Issues” and “Horizon Issues” trials, Mr Justice Fraser identified significant failings at Post Office Ltd and with the Horizon IT system over a number of years.

The Government have formed this inquiry to fully understand these events, gather available evidence and ensure lessons have been learnt so that this cannot occur again. Having listened to affected postmasters, the Government have expanded the scope of the inquiry to ensure they get answers to questions that postmasters and others are seeking. the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) has therefore invited Sir Wyn Williams FLSW to conduct an inquiry following the judgments of Mr Justice Fraser in the Bates versus Post Office Group Litigation into Post Office Ltd’s Horizon IT system and other related issues arising from the findings of Justice Fraser and the settlement reached following this trial.

To reflect the additional focus of Sir Wyn’s work to that announced in June, it will be called an inquiry, rather than a review. Following commitments from both Post Office Ltd and Fujitsu UK to co-operate with the inquiry, the inquiry will be run on a non-statutory basis and have the following terms of reference:

Government want to be fully assured that through the inquiry there is a public summary of the failings that occurred, which were associated with Post Office Ltd’s Horizon IT system. The inquiry will draw on the findings made by Mr Justice Fraser from the Bates versus Post Office Group Litigation (in particular Judgment (No3) “Common Issues” and Judgment (No 6) “Horizon issues”) and other evidence, listen to those that have been most affected, understand what went wrong, and assess whether lessons have been learned and concrete changes have taken place or are underway at Post Office Ltd.

The inquiry shall:

A: 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;

B: Build upon the findings of Mr Justice Fraser, by obtaining all available relevant evidence from Post Office Ltd, Fujitsu and BEIS to establish a clear account of the implementation and failings of Horizon over its lifecycle;

C: Assess whether 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;

D: Assess whether the commitments made by Post Office Ltd within the mediation settlement—including the historical shortfall scheme—have been properly delivered;

E: Assess whether the processes and information provided by Post Office Ltd to postmasters are sufficient; to enable both parties to meet their contractual obligations; and 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 reached by Mr Justice Fraser; and

F: 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 inquiry will consider only those matters set out in the preceding sections A-F. Post Office Ltd’s prosecution function, matters of criminal law, the Horizon group damages settlement, the conduct of current or future litigation relating to Horizon and or the engagement or findings of any other supervisory or complaints mechanisms, including in the public sector, are outside the inquiry‘s scope.

The inquiry will be led by Sir Wyn Williams FLSW, as the Chair of the inquiry. He will be supported by up to four independent advisers. These independent advisers will support Sir Wyn Williams by providing advice on the sources, content and interpretation of evidence received as appropriate. They may also provide independent scrutiny and challenge in relation to emerging findings and recommendations.

The inquiry should make any recommendations it sees fit, including actions that may, in its view, be appropriate as a result of its findings. The inquiry will aim to submit its findings to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at the latest by summer 2021. The final report will be published by the Secretary of State and the Government will respond in due course.

In order to understand the range of issues fully and provide constructive challenge, the inquiry will undertake engagement with significant stakeholder groups, including current and former postmasters, Post Office Ltd, Fujitsu UK, BEIS and other third parties to identify information that is relevant to and within the scope of the inquiry.