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If, like me, you’re wondering how on earth could so many sub-postmasters and mistresses suffer so much, for so long, this website is an interesting place to start, writes David Little, a partner in our Corporate and Commercial Law team.

The ‘Horizon Scandal’ has been described as the largest miscarriage of justice in British history. The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters’ website makes for tragic reading.

As a lawyer neither am I entirely comfortable that my own profession has done all it could have to have identified, supported and sought redress for these victims in timely fashion.

For once however it seems as if British public outrage has moved the government to act immediately. Hundreds of innocent postmasters who were wrongfully convicted due to the Horizon scandal will have their names cleared under new laws to be brought forward by the government.

The blanket exoneration will overturn hundreds of convictions, brought about thanks to erroneous Horizon evidence, clearing the names of many people who have had their lives ruined. The Government has committed to making sure these convictions are overturned later this year, meaning victims do not need to wait years and years for the justice they deserve.

Once this legislation is passed and convictions have been quashed, individuals will be entitled to at least £600,000 in compensation to rebuild their lives.

The Government’s press release is interesting. Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk said: “Fairness is a core pillar of our justice system and there can be no doubt hundreds of innocent post-masters and mistresses have suffered an intolerable miscarriage of justice at the hands of the Post Office. These are truly exceptional circumstances, and we must right this wrong quickly, ensuring those convicted can be fairly and swiftly compensated.

“Minister for Postal Affairs Kevin Hollinrake said: “Postmasters have been fighting for years to get the justice they deserve, and today’s announcement will ensure wrongful convictions are overturned and swifter access to compensation. The Post Office Horizon Scandal is widely described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in our history and it’s important that steps like we’ve announced today are being taken to right the wrongs of the past.

“Sir Wyn Williams’ Inquiry, set up in 2020 to look at issues of governance in the Post Office, will continue its vital work and provide a full public record of how this miscarriage of justice was able to take place.

“In the coming days, the government will consider whether this blanket exoneration should apply to the small number of convictions which have been upheld by the appeal courts. 

“The government recognises that this Bill may lead to the overturning of some convictions that were rightfully brought. In line with the wishes of some of the victims, the government will therefore introduce safeguards to make sure anyone who was rightly convicted, and is now trying to take advantage of compensation schemes, can be prosecuted in the future.

“Legislation will apply to England and Wales only. Conversations with other UK jurisdictions remain ongoing.”

Personally, I’m amazed – again – that “Horizon” is ever selected as the name for any commercial project. Ten years after Fujitsu sold their IT solution to the Post Office, in 1999, another “Horizon” – in the Gulf of Mexico cost BP £50 billion to clean up, after an explosion on the Horizon Deepwater oil rig pumped 178 million barrels of crude oil into the sea.

In the meantime if you haven’t seen Mr Bates v the Post Office, it’s well worth watching. It’s not often that a TV series makes history, moving the government to legislate immediately.

 

Contact our Corporate & Commercial Solicitors

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team. If you would like to contact him, please quote Ref CB445 on either on either 07968 027343 / 020 7631 4141 or email company@bishopandsewell.co.uk.

The above is accurate as at 15 January 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.


Category: Blog, News | Date: 15th Jan 2024


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