Post Office scandal: UK to introduce legislation to quash wrongful convictions

London: The UK government is set to introduce landmark legislation on Wednesday that will see convictions of several British Indians, and many other innocent sub-postmasters, quashed in “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice” in the country.

The Horizon IT Scandal involved hundreds of employees who faced prosecution by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 due to glitches in accounting software developed by a Japanese company.

To date, fewer than 100 convictions have been overturned in the case that saw many being financially ruined as they fought for innocence and several others ended up serving prison sentences for fraud they did not commit.

Under this legislation, affected sub-postmasters will receive an interim payment with the option of immediately taking a fixed and final offer of GBP600,000, so that they can finally begin to rebuild their lives, UK government said in a release on Wednesday.

The “blanket exoneration” — delivered via the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill — will quash convictions brought about by erroneous Horizon evidence, clearing the names of many people who have had their lives ruined, it said.

Under the proposed Bill, convictions will be automatically quashed if they were prosecuted by the Post Office or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and were for offences carried out in connection with Post Office business between 1996 and 2018.

They will also be quashed if they were for relevant offences such as theft, fraud, and false accounting and were against sub-postmasters, their employees, officers, family members, or direct employees of the Post Office working in a Post Office that used the Horizon system software.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised the postmasters for their “courage and perseverance” in their fierce campaign for justice. He also mentioned the ones deceased, who “tragically won’t see the justice they deserve”.

“While I know that nothing can make up for what they have been through, today’s legislation marks an important step forward in finally clearing their names,” PM Sunak said.

“We owe it to the victims of this scandal who have had their lives and livelihoods callously torn apart, to deliver the justice they have fought so long and hard for, and to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Calling it “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”, the government also confirmed that it would bring forward enhanced financial redress for the postmasters who were not convicted, or part of legal action against the Post Office, yet they suffered due to Horizon failures.

These individuals — also known as the Horizon Shortfall Scheme cohort — will have the option to receive a fixed sum payment of GBP75,000, according to Postal Affairs Minister Kevin Hollinrake.

In February 2020, the government launched the independent Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, and the first government-funded compensation payment was given out through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme in March 2021.

Ever since then, it has paid out around 60 per cent of all claims, which amounts to around GBP179 million to over 2,800 claimants.


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