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    Government introduces plans to exonerate Post Office scandal victims

    (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

    UK government on Thursday (22) set out the terms of unprecedented legislation to quash all convictions in the Post Office Horizon scandal to be delivered before the end of July. 

    Kevin Hollinrake, postal affairs minister, said the government’s legislation would exonerate hundreds of sub-postmasters in England and Wales, who were wrongly prosecuted using flawed evidence from the Post Office’s Horizon IT system.  

    It will apply to convictions meeting specific criteria and is expected to clear the majority of victims. 

    Announcing the plans, Hollinrake said the legislation was likely to “exonerate a number of people who were, in fact, guilty of a crime”. 

    “The government accepts that this is a price worth paying in order to ensure that many innocent people are exonerated,” he said.

    “The judiciary and the courts have dealt swiftly with the cases before them, but the scale and circumstances of this prosecutorial misconduct demands an exceptional response,” Hollinrake said. 

    Measures announced on Thursday (22) will cover prosecutions brought by the Post Office and about a dozen cases led by the Crown Prosecution Service for offences such as theft and false accounting.  

    Legislation will exclude cases where the Department for Work and Pensions had been the prosecutor. Separate legislation will be required in Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

    A spokesperson for the prime minister said the government wanted to see the legislation “introduced very soon”, with it “in place by the end of July” to ensure compensation can be paid by then to those postmasters still waiting to be exonerated. 

    Mike Schwarz, a solicitor acting for sub-postmasters, warned that a rush to fix the problem could pose difficulties. “It may exonerate sub-postmasters, but by blanket legislation, it may still leave the taint that not all exonerated sub-postmasters are wholly innocent,” he said. 

    More than 900 sub-postmasters were convicted between 1999 and 2015 using data from the faulty Horizon IT system developed by Japan’s Fujitsu. Though some had their convictions quashed on appeal, the court has been slow to process cases, leaving many in limbo and unable to claim compensation. 

    Many of those convicted went to prison for false accounting and theft. Many were financially ruined. Some sub-postmasters caught up in the scandal have died or taken their own lives in the intervening years. 

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