Emergency law introduced to exonerate Horizon subpostmasters in Scotland

Emergency legislation that will clear the name of Scottish subpostmasters wrongly convicted during the Horizon scandal has been introduced at Holyrood.

Scottish Justice Secretary Angela Constance said lives had been “ruined” as convictions based on the faulty IT system used by the Post Office.

Ms Constance stated: “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.”

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Bill will result in those who were wrongly convicted being exonerated and, with their convictions quashed, they will then be able to access the UK Government financial redress scheme.

Angela Constance said innocent subpostmasters had had their lives ‘ruined’ by Horizon convictions (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Angela Constance said innocent subpostmasters had had their lives ‘ruined’ by Horizon convictions (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The legislation has been introduced by the Scottish Government after the UK Government refused to extend the Bill it introduced in the wake of the Horizon scandal to cover Scotland.

And while it will proceed through Holyrood on an expedited basis, the Scottish Government said its Bill would not receive final approval until after UK legislation.

Ms Constance said this meant MSPs would be able to take account of any changes made to the UK Bill when considering the Scottish legislation.

She insisted that “quickest, easiest route” to deal with Horizon related miscarriages of justice north of the border would have been for Scotland to be included in the scope of the UK Government’s Bill.

Ms Constance said: “Innocent subpostmasters had their lives ruined by being wrongly convicted of offences of dishonesty on the evidence of the faulty Post Office Horizon system.

“The quickest, easiest route to overturn these miscarriages of justice would have been for the UK Government to extend their Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill to cover subpostmasters in Scotland.

“However, our repeated requests for this were refused.”

The Justice Secretary said the Bill introduced at Holyrood “mirrors that of UK legislation to ensure parity for affected sub-postmasters in Scotland with those elsewhere in the UK and to ensure access to the UK Government’s compensation scheme”.

Ms Constance insisted: “The Scottish Government will not do anything to jeopardise equality and parity for victims, so the final stage of the Bill cannot 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.”

The Bill will not apply to submpostmasters whose conviction has been considered by the High Court in connection with an appeal.

The planned law will exonerate convicted subpostmasters with relevant convictions between September 23 1996 and December 31 2018.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said the legislation was “welcome and long overdue”.

The Tory MSP said: “SNP ministers knew from the outset that Scotland’s distinct legal system and prosecution mechanism required a separate law to deliver justice to Scottish sub-postmasters.

“But instead of getting on and delivering it, the SNP typically wasted time on a constitutional spat with the UK Government, as well as creating confusion on whether they backed blanket exonerations.

“Given that this legislation looks to be largely a copy-and-paste job, Scottish victims of this appalling scandal have needlessly been kept in the dark for longer than those in the rest of the UK.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is best placed to bring forward proposals to overturn relevant convictions in Scotland, to be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government as they bring forward their own legislation to ensure that those who have been wrongly convicted in all parts of the UK can access financial redress.”