Business

The key questions to be answered after government’s plan to overturn Post Office convictions

Details of legislation to exonerate sub-postmasters who were wronged in the Horizon scandal have been set out by the government.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 Post Office managers were prosecuted after faulty accounting software provided by Fujitsu made it seem like money was missing from their branches in the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced earlier this year there would be blanket legislation to clear their names.

Although some details have now been announced by business minister Kevin Hollinrake in the Commons, there’s still a lot to find out, and key questions remain.

Postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake MP
Image:
Business minister Kevin Hollinrake

When?

We don’t yet know, for example, when we’ll see the full legislation and when it will be enacted, not least when those who suffered can apply and eventually be vindicated.

Essentially, we’re waiting to hear what the legislation says.

More on Post Office Scandal

As for when we’ll find out, Mr Hollinrake himself gave two answers – the new legislation will be brought forward for scrutiny “shortly” and will become law “as soon as possible before summer recess”.

So ASAP, but before 23 July.

How?

Thursday’s announcement laid out a bit of how the legislation will determine which convictions are quashed – via a “set of clear and objective criteria” that will “not require any element of discretion or subjective analysis”.

What does that mean? We’ll have to wait to find out.

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Justice our priority, says PM

Who?

Will the legislation help sub-postmasters in Scotland and Northern Ireland? Not based on what Mr Hollinrake announced – they are best served by local decisions tailored to local judicial systems, he said.

So what will happen to these victims? That’s up to the Scottish and Northern Ireland governments, Mr Hollinrake added.

They are to decide on and carry out their own approaches to quashing convictions, though Mr Hollinrake said he wants compensation to be paid to victims across the UK and will work with the other governments to ensure compatible schemes.

A statement from the Scottish government said they want to see UK-wide legislation to ensure there is a quick, fair and equal solution for all affected sub-postmasters.

Scottish justice secretary Angela Costance said: “We will introduce Scottish legislation if necessary but it is likely that would need to be after a UK bill had passed to ensure full compatibility with UK legislation and the UK compensation scheme, in which the Scottish government has no locus.”

Pre-Horizon alleged victims

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is what happens to alleged victims of the similarly apparently faulty Horizon software predecessor, Capture.

While that software was introduced by the Post Office, it also allegedly caused shortfalls which people were then prosecuted for.

Will Capture victims be included? The statement mentioned Horizon “and its pilots” will fall under its responsibilities. Whether that means Capture is unknown.

Mr Hollinrake gave a boost to Capture victims by saying he wanted to “ensure that those affected are included in any compensation where detriment has occurred”.

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