Horizon scandal: CCRC to refer eight more cases; seeks review of similar prosecutions

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The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has decided to refer the convictions of eight more sub-postmasters for appeal following the High Court verdicts on the Horizon IT system used by the Post Office.

The CCRC has earlier in March decided to send 39 cases for appeal. It has received 61 applications from sub-postmasters, with 27 of them arriving after the Horizon Issues Judgment which went against the Post Office.

“All of the CCRC referrals so far are being made on the basis of an abuse of process argument concerning issues with the Post Office’s Horizon computer system which may have had an impact on the safety of the convictions,” the CCRC said in a statement.

“The CCRC believes the argument gives rise to a real possibility that the appeal courts will quash these convictions.”

The CCRC added that it has provisionally decided to not refer seven other Post Office cases. The applicants will have the opportunity to respond before a final decision. The agency said it is still working on the remaining seven cases.

In another major development, the commission has written to the Attorney General and Justice Select Committee proposing a review into when and how it ought to be permissible for prosecutions to be brought in circumstances similar to the Horizon cases.

The Post Office has been the victim as well as investigator of an alleged offence while acting as the private prosecutor in the cases, it pointed out.

Commenting on the Post Office review of Horizon-related prosecutions, the CCRC said anyone who consider their criminal conviction may be unsafe because of Horizon performance issues should consider challenging their conviction.

“If they have already tried to appeal and failed, or pleaded guilty in a magistrates court (from where there is no right of appeal against conviction following a guilty plea), they should consider applying to the CCRC for a review of their Horizon-related conviction,” the agency said in the statement.

Post Office has recently revealed that it has identified around 900 cases of prosecution since the introduction of Horizon IT system in 1999, “which may have relied on Horizon data”.

Meanwhile, Darren Jones, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, has written to Nick Read and Paula Vennells, current and former chief executives respectively of Post Office and to Fujitsu with a series of questions relating to the handling of the Horizon scandal.

The BEIS Committee is holding an inquiry into the scandal which saw hundreds of sub-postmasters accused of fraud.

“Sub-postmasters deserve justice and it’s an appalling reality that many have suffered considerable personal distress as a result of the handling of faults in the Horizon IT system,” commented Jones.

“It’s important that the Post Office and Fujitsu now respond fully to the BEIS Committee’s questions over their actions and oversight during this period.”

The Committee was due to hold an evidence session on 24 March with the three, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The BEIS Committee’s inquiry had been looking at the impact on sub-postmasters and its effect on the future viability of the Post Office, and examining the lessons the Government and Post Office had learned from the scandal.