Scotland’s Post Office scandal victims to be exonerated en masse

The Scottish parliament will introduce its own legislation to exonerate subpostmasters with convictions based on evidence from Post Office Horizon system

The Scottish Parliament is introducing legislation to exonerate all subpostmasters convicted based on evidence from the controversial Post Office Horizon system.

Mirroring legislation in Westminster, which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Scottish Parliament will exonerate hundreds of former subpostmasters and branch staff who were convicted based on Horizon system evidence.

In the Westminster Parliament, emergency legislation is being pushed through to overturn the convictions of hundreds of former subpostmasters and their staff. Prime minister Rishi Sunak promised the blanket exoneration after an ITV drama and documentary about the scandal angered the public.

Scottish justice secretary Angela Constance said the “quickest, easiest route” to overturn these miscarriages of justice would have been for the UK government to extend its legislation to cover Scotland.

“However, our repeated requests for this were refused,” she added. “Our bill, therefore, mirrors that of UK legislation to ensure parity for affected subpostmasters in Scotland with those elsewhere in the UK, and to ensure access to the UK government’s compensation scheme.

“The scale of the scandal and the length of time that the victims have waited for justice means we are taking an unprecedented step of introducing legislation to right this terrible wrong and asking Parliament for it to be processed as an emergency bill.”

Constance said the final stage of the bill could not be considered in the Scottish Parliament until after the UK legislation has been passed. “This will ensure that MSPs can take account of any amendments made to the UK bill.”

Our bill mirrors that of UK legislation to ensure parity for affected subpostmasters in Scotland with those elsewhere in the UK, and to ensure access to the UK government’s compensation scheme
Angela Constance, Scottish justice secretary

In September 2020, following a large number of cases referred for appeal by England’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the Scottish CCRC 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 Scottish CCRC is traditionally about 10% of the size of the CCRC in England in terms of cases.

In the UK, between 2000 and 2015, 736 subpostmasters were convicted of crimes including theft and false accounting after the Post Office prosecuted them using evidence from the Horizon retail and accounting system used in thousands of branches.

The Horizon system was proved to be error-prone during a High Court legal battle that began in 2018. Led by former subpostmaster Alan Bates, a group of 555 members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) sued the Post Office to prove that errors in the Horizon system were causing unexplained accounting discrepancies.

The CCRC began reviewing English cases in 2015, and the first convictions to be overturned came in December 2020. Since then, more than 100 former subpostmasters and branch staff have had convictions overturned. The first wrongful conviction of a subpostmaster overturned in Scotland came in September 2023.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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