Yousaf: UK should think again and include Scotland in Horizon Bill

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill as currently proposed would only quash convictions in England and Wales.

Humza Yousaf: UK Government should think again and include Scotland in Post Office Horizon Bill PA Media

The UK Government should “think again” about making its Horizon Bill UK-wide, Scotland’s First Minister has said.

The legislation – which will quash the convictions of subpostmasters as a result of faults with the Post Office IT system – is due to be introduced on Wednesday, but will cover only England and Wales.

Humza Yousaf said he was “greatly disappointed” that is the case, but stressed steps can still be taken to ensure the legislation comes into effect across the UK.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, he urged the UK Government to “think again”, but said his own Government is working on bringing forward a Bill.

“We have been working on Scottish-specific legislation,” he said. “I’ve been having regular discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs.”

But Scottish legislation will have to wait until the Westminster Bill passes before it can be introduced, to ensure there is no friction between the two that could impact on the settlements offered to those impacted by Horizon.

Yousaf continued: “The difficulty of course with Scottish-specific legislation is we’ll have to wait to see the details of UK-specific legislation, not just when it’s introduced, but as it gets amended through the UK parliamentary process.

“If we have legislation which diverges significantly, that could have an impact on compensation that subpostmasters here in Scotland could get access to and of course we don’t want that.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the Bill is an ‘important step forward’.PA Media

Some reports suggest the UK Bill may not be passed until July – which would mean the Scottish Parliament would be in recess and unable to pass its own legislation until MSPs return in September.

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.

Around 100 Post Office subpostmasters in Scotland were among those convicted after being wrongly accused of embezzling money.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said 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”.

Downing Street said that under the law, convictions in England and Wales 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.

The Government will also bring forward “enhanced” financial redress for postmasters who, while not convicted or part of legal action against the Post Office, made good the apparent losses caused by the Horizon system from their own pockets.

They will be entitled to a fixed sum award of £75,000 through the Horizon shortfall scheme, Downing Street said.

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