First, as I know some of my readers will be looking in here for some insight into the repercussions of yesterday’s decision by Lord Coulson in the Court of Appeal, basically it means that nothing at all has changed from the original decision of Fraser J in the first trial of Bates & Ors v Post Office Ltd. That decision is now affirmed and cannot be further challenged. More costs will be awarded against POL and as far as I can see, many of the claimants cases have now been made – those that did not rest on the outcome of the Horizon Trial.
In addition the most important point I think is that ‘the Post Office’ thought that the Judge was wrong on 26 points of Law. Lord Justice Coulson has proclaimed that ‘the Post Office’ is WRONG on all 26 points. To be wrong once or twice may in some way be excusable but to be wrong on all 26 points must bring only one very understandable and correct outcome and that is the person or persons unknown, responsible for wasting so much of taxpayers money in bringing this appeal must be held to account.
Not for this piece but another is more analysis of the points that POL appealed. It is extremely relevant that POL are now placed in a position of implementing decisions that they do not believe to be correct. There are actions to be taken and I for one will be monitoring POL to ensure that these are carried out, not least of which will be a redrafted Subpostmaster Contract. Placing the responsibility for doing that in the hands of employees and legal teams who have so miserably failed to defend the existing contracts in court is asking for trouble.
What struck me though from reading Lord Coulson’s decision and assisted by Nick Wallis’ and Eleanor Shaikh’s excellent research (https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019_11_05_archive.html) is a point that now needs to be addressed which has been staring me at least, in the face for some time.
Who or what are we describing when we refer to Post Office Ltd (POL)?
Lord Justice Coulson and Justice Fraser refer to ‘the Post Office’ in their decision notices as we all seem to do from time to time. This is what is known as a collective noun and a collective noun can be used in the singular or the plural. https://www.infoplease.com/language-arts/grammar-and-spelling/sentence-agreement-collective-nouns
In the singular we can refer to POL in this way: “Post Office Ltd is introducing a new product into its branches”
In the plural we can say: “Post Office Ltd are considering whether or not to appeal Justice Fraser’s decision”.
I think the singular use is unambiguous but it is when we use the plural that exactly who or what we are describing becomes unclear and is very much dependent on the context in which we use it. In the above case I would assume we are referring to the collective represented by POL senior management and their legal representatives. If we say “Post Office Ltd are reviewing their relationship with the NFSP” then that could be interpreted as the collective represented by senior management alone.
So we have to be very careful when using the plural because it may not be obvious to whom we refer and the individuals that are best described as being part of that collective. I would suggest that identifying the individuals who have responsibility for the actions of the collective is vital when trying to understand the consequences of the collective’s actions.
That is where the wonderful research from Eleanor comes in. Trying to establish ultimate responsibility for the actions of POL is, as Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom described to me, “is like grappling with jelly”. It is a task that must now be undertaken because yesterday’s decision by Lord Coulson confirms that ‘POL’ are responsible for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on what the judge described as a ‘hopeless’ appeal and those responsible, those that are identified to be within the collective, must be identified and held to account.