'Extremely disappointing' UK Horizon law doesn't include Scotland

Scotland's justice secretary has warned that victims north of the border could face justice delays due to the decision taken by the UK Government.

‘Extremely disappointing’ UK Post Office Horizon exoneration law doesn’t include Scotland Getty Images

It is “extremely disappointing” the UK Government chose not to include Scotland in its bill to exonerate Post Office staff wrongly convicted due to the Horizon scandal, the Scottish Government has said.

Justice secretary Angela Constance responded to an announcement from Westminster that a law to quash wrongful convictions of subpostmasters will be introduced on Wednesday.

The proposed Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill “marks an important step forward in finally clearing” the names of hundreds of wronged branch managers who have had their lives “callously torn apart”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

But the legislation will only apply to those in England and Wales.

The law announced by Rishi Sunak on Wednesday will only apply to England and Wales.Number 10

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for the UK Government to ensure the law applies to all areas of the UK.

Constance said: “We, along with the Northern Ireland Executive, urged the UK Government to introduce UK-wide legislation as the best way to ensure there is a quick, fair and equal solution for all affected sub-postmasters, particularly as the Post Office is reserved to Westminster, so this announcement is extremely disappointing.

“It is not too late for the UK Government to change their position but if this continues to be refused, we will introduce Scottish legislation that delivers justice for all those affected.

“It is likely that this would need to be passed after a UK bill is passed to ensure full compatibility with UK legislation and the UK compensation scheme, in which the Scottish Government has no locus, but we will do everything in our power to work as quickly as possible.”

Up to 100 Scots may have been caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal.STV News

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

It’s thought up to 100 of these are in Scotland. However, unlike in England where the Post Office prosecuted people, the Crown Office was responsible for prosecutions in Scotland.

The long-running saga was put in a fresh spotlight by STV’s acclaimed drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

Scotland’s justice secretary warned last week that Scottish victims of the scandal could face delays due to the UK Government choosing not to apply the law north of the border.

Constance told MSPs that the Scottish Government is unable to pass legislation to exonerate victims until the UK Government has voted through its own legislation.

She said this was to ensure fair and equal treatment across the UK.

In a letter to Holyrood’s criminal justice committee on Thursday, the minister said: “It is unclear why the UK Government has made this decision to restrict the bill to England and Wales.”

Downing Street said that under the law applying to England and Wales, convictions will be automatically quashed if they meet the following criteria:

  • Were prosecuted by the Post Office or Crown Prosecution Service;
  • Were for offences carried out in connection with Post Office business between 1996 and 2018;
  • Were for relevant offences such as theft, fraud and false accounting;
  • Were against subpostmasters, their employees, officers, family members or direct employees of the Post Office working in a Post Office that used the Horizon system software.

Those with overturned convictions will receive an interim payment with the option of immediately taking a fixed and final offer of £600,000, according to No 10.

Sunak said: “I want to pay tribute to all the postmasters who have shown such courage and perseverance in their fierce campaign for justice, and to those who tragically won’t see the justice they deserve.

“While I know that nothing can make up for what they’ve been through, today’s legislation marks an important step forward in finally clearing their names.

“We owe it to the victims of this scandal who have had their lives and livelihoods callously torn apart, to deliver the justice they’ve fought so long and hard for, and to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

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