Ministers press ahead with quashing Post Office convictions

The Government has announced that it will quash convictions in order to exonerate subpostmasters wronged in the Horizon scandal by “discredited” prosecutors.

Revealing further details of the legislation today, Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office minister, said that the “unprecedented” intervention will “deliver long overdue justice to postmasters”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this year announced blanket legislation to clear their names after a TV drama thrust the saga into the spotlight and sparked public outrage.

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More than 700 Post Office branch managers around the UK were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015, after the faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake speaking during an urgent question on the Post Office Horizon scandal in the House of Commons.Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake speaking during an urgent question on the Post Office Horizon scandal in the House of Commons.
Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake speaking during an urgent question on the Post Office Horizon scandal in the House of Commons.

Announcing some of the details of the law in a written ministerial statement, Mr Hollinrake said it will quash convictions defined by a “clear and objective criteria”.

The legislation will specify who the prosecutor was in relevant cases, and will “quash these prosecutions where the prosecutor is, in effect, discredited”, he said.

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.

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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.

Former Post Office Chair Henry Staunton, current CEO Nick Read, and former sub-postmasters including Alan Bates, will give evidence to MPs on progress on redress to Post Office Horizon scandal victims next week.

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Mr Bates founded the group of 555 former sub-postmasters that won the legal case that was a watershed moment in the scandal in 2019.

Campaigner and former subpostmistress Jo Hamilton said that she will “believe it when I see it”, adding: “Any promises they’ve made they’ve not kept.”

Reacting to the details of the new legislation, Ms Hamilton added: “Well, I guess it’s the only answer to overturn loads of them and encourage people to come forward.

“But they need to be concentrated on paying the group who actually took them to court in the first place.”

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Asked if she believed people would be exonerated any time soon, Ms Hamilton said: “No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t, honestly.

“I would just say, I’ll believe it when I see it, because they’ve never stuck to anything. Any promises they’ve made they’ve not kept.

“So I would be very cynical.”

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.

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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.”

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said the Government wanted to see the legislation “introduced very soon”, with it “in place by the end of July” to ensure compensation can be paid by then to those postmasters still waiting to be exonerated.