Hundreds of Post Office scandal victims set to be cleared as details of new legislation announced

22 February 2024, 15:01 | Updated: 22 February 2024, 15:27

Kevin Hollinrake announced the scope of the legislation today. The Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses wrongly convicted
Kevin Hollinrake announced the scope of the legislation today. The Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses wrongly convicted. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Hundreds of people wrongly convicted in the Post Office scandal are set to have their names cleared as details emerged of new laws to exonerate them.

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New legislation is expected to come in by the end of July and will apply to convictions in England and Wales.

Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake said the legislation will be brought forward "shortly".

He said the new law will ‘specify’ individual prosecutors who acted ‘egregiously’ and will “legislate to quash these prosecutions where the prosecutor is in effect, discredited.”

Crown Prosecution Service cases will be included within the Bill's scope, but no convictions from the Department for Work and Pensions as none have been overturned.

Convictions will need to relate to alleged offences during the period that the Horizon IT system was in use and to offences which relate to the scandal - for example theft and false accounting.

The convicted person will need to have been working in a Post Office that used the software and be either a subpostmaster, one of their employees, officers, or family members, or a direct employee of the Post Office, in order to be eligible.

The law will apply to convictions in England and Wales, but ministers will work with the Scottish and Northern Ireland governments to ensure compensation can be paid to victims there too.

Mr Hollinrake said the Government's legislation was likely to also clear the names of people "who were, in fact, guilty of a crime".

He said this was a "price worth paying" in order to quash convictions for many innocent people.

In terms of measures to mitigate the risk of clearing those guilty of offences, Mr Hollinrake said people will be required to sign a statement to the effect that they did not commit the crime for which they were convicted in order to receive financial redress.

If people are found to have signed the statement falsely in order to gain compensation, they "may be guilty of fraud", he said.

The minister said: "We are keen to ensure that the legislation achieves its goal of bringing prompt justice to all of those who were wrongfully convicted as a result of the scandal, followed by rapid financial redress."

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Last month Rishi Sunak pledged to bring in a new emergency law to exonerate wrongly convicted postmasters.

They will have to sign documentation saying they are innocent in order to get their £600,000 compensation.

Any later found to have been guilty could still be prosecuted for fraud.

Those who go through the courts to clear their names can claim £600,000 under the Government’s compensation scheme.

The Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu's faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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