tashatuvango - Fotolia

Potential miscarriages of justice of Scottish subpostmasters move to full review

The Post Office Horizon scandal gets bigger as subpostmaster prosecutions in Scotland are reviewed

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is fully reviewing five cases of potential miscarriage of justice in relation to subpostmasters prosecuted by the Post Office.

In September 2020, the SCCRC took what it described as an “unusual step” and wrote to 73 people with criminal convictions potentially linked to the Post Office’s Horizon computer errors.

This followed an extensive investigation by the CCRC for England, Wales and Northern Ireland that culminated in the referral of about 50 cases to the Court of Appeal and Southwark Crown Court for appeal.

What has become known as the Horizon scandal is described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history. Over a period of about 15 years, subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with many prosecuted and some sent to jail. The subpostmasters claimed that accounting shortfalls were not caused by them, but by faults in Horizon.

Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Horizon system, from Fujitsu, in 2009 when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters (see timeline below).

The five cases at the SCCRC have been through its pre-acceptance stage and have been moved to full review to be investigated by a legal officer. There could be more as other subpostmasters have made enquiries and the SCCRC is encouraging any subpostmasters who think they have been affected to come forward.

“The commission has received five applications from individuals with criminal convictions potentially affected by issues arising from the Horizon computer system and claiming that they have therefore suffered a miscarriage of justice,” said an SCCRC update. “There have also been a number of other enquiries which may lead to subsequent applications to the commission in the future.

“A stage one review of these five applications has been undertaken and the SCCRC has decided to accept all of these cases to stage two, where a full review will be undertaken,” added the SCCRC.

About 900 subpostmasters were convicted of crimes including theft and false accounting based on evidence from the Horizon system. Many suspected that computer errors were to blame, but the Post Office refused to accept this or prove otherwise. The Post Office used its private prosecution powers to take the subpostmasters to court without investigating the unexplained losses.

A multimillion-pound group litigation in the High Court proved that the Horizon computer system subpostmasters use in branches had many errors that could cause shortfalls.

Since the court case, the CCRC has sent about 50 cases for appeal and six subpostmasters have already had their convictions quashed in Southwark Crown Court. Over 40 more will have their appeals heard in the Court of Appeal from 22 March.

Speaking to Computer Weekly in March last year, Helen Pitcher, chairman at the CCRC, told Computer Weekly it was the biggest group referral in history. “This is completely unprecedented,” she said.

When announcing that letters had been sent out last year, Gerard Sinclair, CEO of the SCCRC, said: “Many of those affected by Horizon will have had no prior experience of the criminal justice system. We want anyone who has been wrongly convicted to know that a remedy is available.”

He urged subpostmasters in Scotland who think they might have been affected to contact the SCCRC: “We believe there may be others affected by Horizon who aren’t on our contact list. The contact details we have for some people may also be out of date. If you don’t receive a letter, but think that you were wrongly convicted as a result of information from Horizon, I would urge you to make contact with us.”

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

Read more on IT for retail and logistics

Data Center
Data Management