Six subpostmaster appeals to be heard in Scottish court

Scottish court will hear appeals against the convictions of six former subpostmasters based on evidence from a Post Office computer system

Six former subpostmasters in Scotland will have appeals against wrongful convictions heard at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh as part of the Post Office Horizon scandal, with another group of the same size under review.

The appeals against the convictions of former subpostmasters Aleid Kloosterhuis, William Quarm, Susan Sinclair, Colin Smith, Judith Smith and Robert Thomson will be heard in mid-October.

This is part of the Post Office IT scandal that has already seen 86 former subpostmasters and branch workers have wrongful prosecutions for theft and false accounting overturned after computer evidence used to convict them was proved faulty.

In November 2022, Scotland’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred six cases of potential wrongful convictions of subpostmasters, based on computer evidence, to the Appeal Court in Scotland.

The six former subpostmasters were all prosecuted for unexplained shortfalls in their branch accounts, which could have been caused by computer errors, according to a ruling in the High Court in England.

The SCCRC expects to issue statements of reasons for a second group of six appellants after the court issues its decision in the first, depending on the outcome of these hearings.

Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system in 2009 when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

Some were sent to prison, many were heavily fined, large numbers were made bankrupt and families were ruined. It has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK legal history. A total of 736 former subpostmasters were prosecuted in England, based on evidence from the Horizon computer system used in Post Office branches. Until the High Court judgment in 2019, the Post Office had denied that unexplained shortfalls could be caused by Horizon errors.

The CCRC began reviewing English cases in 2015, and the first convictions to be overturned came in December 2020. In England, more than 80 former subpostmasters have so far had their criminal convictions overturned, and more are expected. 

In September 2020, following a large number of cases referred for appeal by England’s CCRC, the SCCRC took what it described as an “unusual step” and wrote to more than 70 people with potential wrongful convictions. It began reviewing the first set of cases in March 2021.

Scotland has a separate legal system and the SCCRC is traditionally about 10% of the size of the CCRC in England in terms of cases.

In November 2022, SCCRC CEO Michael Walker said: “These cases posed significant challenges for the commission. Similar cases have been litigated in England and Wales, and lengthy decisions and voluminous papers exist in relation to those court actions. We were required to consider that information and to obtain materials relevant to the six cases that we are referring today.

“Our role in these six cases now ends – it is for the Appeal Court to decide whether any miscarriages of justice occurred.”

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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