Sunak pledges new law to exonerate wrongly convicted Post Office workers

The Prime Minister said legislation will be introduced to ensure those caught up in the Horizon scandal are 'exonerated and compensated'.

A new UK law is to be introduced to exonerate hundreds of Post Office branch managers caught up in the Horizon IT scandal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the workers were victims of “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were convicted of swindling money on the basis of evidence from a flawed IT system.

The Prime Minister told MPs: “We will introduce new primary legislation to ensure that those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated.”

Sunak also announced a new upfront payment of £75,000 for the “vital” group of postmasters who took action against the Post Office.

It’s not yet clear how UK legislation would impact Scotland where Post Office staff were convicted by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

In England, the Post Office acted as the prosecutor.

Angela Constance, Scotland’s justice secretary, previously said she would consider the idea of a pardon scheme in Scotland for the 100 estimated convictions here.

She said any legal recourse should ensure Scottish victims maintain access to UK-wide compensation schemes.

Downing Street said it will work with Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure subpostmasters in those nations can also be cleared.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “We want to work with relevant bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland on this matter, it’s not something we can do cross-UK.”

Angela Constance said she is considering a pardon scheme for Scots caught up in the Horizon scandal.STV News

During Prime Minister’s Questinos on Wednesday, Sunak said it was important justice and compensation was given to those wrongly prosecuted.

“This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history,” he said.

“People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation.”

Sunak said “we will make sure the truth comes to light” and “right the wrongs of the past”.

UK Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake said 980 postmasters were convicted but just 93 have managed to get their convictions overturned.

In Scotland, around 100 are thought to have been convicted but only two have been overturned.

The Horizon system started to be rolled out in Post Office branches across the UK in 1999 and over the subsequent years a series of subpostmasters were prosecuted over missing funds.

In 2019 the High Court ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

The long-running battle for justice accelerated dramatically after STV broadcast the drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which highlighted the scandal earlier this month.

It's thought there are around 100 people in Scotland with convictions related to the Post Office Horizon scandal.iStock

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said on Wednesday that it had been made aware of issues with the Fujitsu-made system, which resulted in almost 1,000 sub-postmasters being convicted of crimes including theft and embezzlement, in 2013.

It also said Scottish prosecutors were told by the Post Office that the faulty Horizon system would not impact on its cases.

Asked if the Crown Office chose not to look again at the convictions in Scotland relating to Horizon because of assurances from the Post Office and if it felt it had been misled, the service said on Wednesday that it could not provide a response.

The ongoing public inquiry into the scandal and appeals against convictions may hamper what the COPFS can make public.

The spokesperson said: “Retained records demonstrate that COPFS were first made aware of potential problems with the Horizon computer system in May 2013.

“However, we were told by the Post Office at that time that these potential problems did not impact on any of our cases.”

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