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    Exonerations for wrongly convicted Scottish sub-postmasters as new law comes into force

    Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

    Scottish sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted as a result of the Post Office Horizon scandal will be automatically exonerated today (14).

    The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Act received royal assent yesterday and came into force today. The legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament on May 30.

    Working with the Crown Office, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Post Office, the Scottish government will notify those affected and ensure police and court records are amended. There is also a route for victims to bring their cases to the attention of ministers.

    Justice Secretary Angela Constance has written an open letter to sub-postmasters setting out next steps.

    She said, “This legislation automatically exonerates sub-postmasters who were convicted of crimes of dishonesty that they did not commit due to the Post Office’s faulty Horizon IT system, meaning they are eligible to access the redress scheme.

    “Of course, no amount of compensation can fully mend the lives that were torn apart by this miscarriage of justice. I do hope, however, that this legislation goes some way to righting the terrible wrongs of the past.

    “I will be writing to those affected to tell them their convictions have been quashed and ensuring court records are changed, so the victims of this scandal can have their good names restored as quickly as possible. They have already waited too long for justice.”

    Soon after Horizon, the software which was purpose built for the Post Office by Fujitsu, rolled out in 1999, there was an immediate increase in the number of sub-postmasters seeing unexplained accounting shortfalls.

    As a result, hundreds were prosecuted for financial crimes, with the Post Office, which is wholly owned by the UK government, leading those prosecutions itself in England. In Scotland, where it was at the time a Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), it referred cases to COPFS to prosecute on its behalf. 

    In 2020 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) wrote to 73 former sub-postmasters that COPFS had identified as potential victims of a miscarriage of justice, asking them to come forward to have their cases reopened. As of March, only 19 people had contacted the commission and just seven cases have been overturned using the judicial route.

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