Scotland's top lawyer to appear before MSPs over Horizon Post Office scandal

The Lord Advocate faces questions over the up to 100 Post Office workers in Scotland who may have been wrongly convicted by the Crown Office.

Scotland’s top law officer to appear before Holyrood over Post Office Horizon scandal convictions Getty Images

Scotland’s top law officer will appear before MSPs as she faces questions over the Scots prosecuted as a result of the Horizon IT scandal.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain has come under pressure from the leaders of Scottish Labour the Conservatives to appear at the Scottish Parliament.

It comes after concerns were raised about when the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) knew about the flawed system which resulted in up to 100 prosecutions of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses in Scotland.

In England, staff were directly prosecuted by the Post Office but in Scotland they were convicted by the Crown.

Up to 1,000 Post Office staff across the UK may have been wrongfully convicted due to faulty software.iStock

The prosecution said this week that it first found out about the problem with the IT system in May of 2013.

First Minister Humza Yousaf said guidance was issued to prosecutors urging them to ensure evidence was not overly reliant on Horizon in September of that year.

But prosecutions weren’t effectively halted until 2015.

To date, only a handful of Post Office workers in Scotland convicted of crimes such as fraud and embezzlement have been exonerated.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Lord Advocate was said to be finalising timings with parliamentary authorities to make a statement, after which she will take questions from MSPs.

It said: “The Lord Advocate is willing to make a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the Horizon IT prosecutions.

“She hopes to come to an agreement with parliamentary authorities about the timing of this at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The prosecution service said this week it first found out about issues with the system in May 2013.

Douglas Ross described the Horizon scandal as 'the most appalling miscarriage of justice'.Getty Images

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the Horizon scandal has “devastated” lives across the UK.

He said during FMQs: “There was a sudden spike in cases involving people who were some of the most trusted in their communities but the Crown Office proceeded anyway.

“It is the most appalling miscarriage of justice. Good people were criminalised because of an IT failure they had nothing to do with and a cover-up that lasted for years – it’s right that no stone is left unturned in seeking answers.

“The Crown Office in Scotland must be transparent – prosecutors were aware of issues with the flawed Horizon system more than 10 years ago, so, First Minister, we don’t need meetings or briefings from the Lord Advocate, we need her here in Parliament to answer questions about this scandal.”

Yousaf told MSPs that between 2013 and 2015 the Crown Office had been assured by the Post Office that Horizon had no bearing on live Scottish cases.

He said subpostmasters and subpostmistresses have “waited far too long” for justice and compensation in the scandals.

‘The Post Office acted like the mob’

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar called on the Lord Advocate to lay out a timeline of the Crown Office’s understanding, as he accused Post Office employees of acting like “the mob” by “going door to door in Scotland to threaten and extort money from subpostmasters”.

He said: “Subpostmasters were pressured into accepting accusations of false accounting and forced to hand over thousands of pounds that day or face imprisonment.”

Anas Sarwar accused the Post Office of acting like 'the mob'.Getty Images

The First Minister said: “I absolutely empathise in the strongest way possible with the harrowing tales that we’ve heard from subpostmasters and subpostmistresses right up and down the country.”

He added that he agrees the actions of the Post Office should be “interrogated” and said it is for the Crown Office to consider allegations of criminality.

This week, the UK Government said it will look to legislate to exonerate all those impacted, with Yousaf saying in a letter to the Prime Minister on Wednesday he will work with UK ministers to do the same.

Yousaf said the quickest way may be to extend the Westminster legislation to include Scotland using a legislative consent motion but he added the Scottish Government will be exploring all options.

Meanwhile, a case referenced by Ross where a prosecutor appeared to have knowledge of issues with Horizon in January 2013 was challenged by the Crown Office, with the spokesperson saying they had raised a “discrepancy” around dates with the public inquiry.

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