Government introduce law to clear victims of Post Office scandal to Parliament

A law aimed at quashing the wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal is being introduced, ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports

A law aimed at quashing the wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal is being introduced by the government 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.

Postal Minister Kevin Hollinrake said the current process to overturn convictions was "taking too long", so the government made the "unprecedented" decision "of stepping in and legislating in this way to make sure we can both quash their convictions and pay compensation quickly".

Mr Hollinrake admitted there is a risk with this legislation that some people who aren't innocent could be exonerated - "this is the least worst option", he said.

The new legislation will exonerate those convicted in England and Wales on the basis of the faulty Horizon accounting software in what has been branded the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

Downing Street said that under the law, convictions will be automatically quashed if they meet the following criteria:

  • Were prosecuted by the Post Office or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

  • 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 sub-postmasters, their employees, officers, family members or direct employees of the Post Office working in a Post Office that used the Horizon system software.

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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.

Mr 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.”

More than 700 sub-postmasters 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.

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

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.

Those who have already settled for less money will have their compensation topped up to this level, while people can instead choose to have their claims assessed as part of the usual scheme process, in which there is no limit to compensation.

ITV series Mr Bates vs The Post Office is credited brought the Horizon scandal into the spotlight in January. Credit: ITV

The new Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme, to be run by the Department for Business and Trade, is to open for applications to those who have had their convictions quashed “as soon as possible” once the legislation has passed.

The government hopes the Bill will receive royal assent and become law ahead of MPs’ summer holiday.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said ministers “won’t rest until every victim receives the compensation they are entitled to”.

“It is absolutely right that we sweep away the convictions wrongly given to postmasters on the basis of bad evidence, and it is a disgrace that they were ever pursued by the Post Office,” she said.

Ministers have decided the scale of the scandal is so great that the usual process of individuals going through the courts would take too long.

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