Parliament backs moves to exonerate subpostmasters caught up in Horizon scandal

Hundreds of subpostmasters caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal will have their names cleared on Friday after Parliament backed legislation to quash their convictions.

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill will receive royal assent on the final sitting day of Parliament before it halts its business ahead of the July 4 General Election.

Business minister Kevin Hollinrake, speaking as MPs accepted Lords amendments to the Bill, told the Commons: “It’s an historic day because convictions will, as a result of this legislation, be overturned on royal assent – and with His Majesty’s agreement that means they will be overturned tomorrow.”

The Bill will quash convictions of theft, fraud, false accounting and other offences for subpostmasters who have suffered as a consequence of the Horizon scandal, and relevant cautions will be deleted from records.

A Post Office van
The Bill will quash convictions of theft, fraud, false accounting and other offences (PA)

The Bill will apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, affecting those who were prosecuted by the Post Office, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or Northern Ireland authorities in the years 1996 to 2018.

The Scottish Parliament will pass its own law to a similar effect north of the border, because of Scotland’s distinct legal system.

Those whose convictions are quashed will then be eligible to receive compensation payments from the Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme, which will be set up after the legislation is passed.

The Horizon scandal, which has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history, saw more than 700 Post Office branch managers handed criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing.

The Post Office is wholly owned by the Government and a public inquiry into Horizon is ongoing.

The scandal received widespread attention after ITV screened its acclaimed drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

On Thursday, peers failed in a last-ditch attempt to exonerate more subpostmasters caught up in it.

Peers believed that the 13 cases of subpostmasters whose convictions were upheld by the Court of Appeal, or were refused permission for their case to be heard, would be added to the remit of the Bill.

But there was some confusion on the benches of the Upper House as senior Tory backbench figures claimed ministers had agreed during backroom wash-up talks to add the 13 cases to the scope of the Bill.

However, business minister Lord Offord of Garvel suggested this was not the case, telling peers: “Court of Appeal cases are excluded from the Bill because we believe the Government must tread carefully where judges in the senior appellant courts have considered a case.”