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    Post Office scandal: Sunak considers plan to exonerate Horizon victims

    Britain's Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party Rishi Sunak (Photo by JACOB KING/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

    Measures are being considered by the government to clear the names of hundreds of sub-postmasters convicted in the Post Office Horizon scandal, prime minister Rishi Sunak has said.

    Sunak also confirmed that Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, could strip the Post Office of its role in the appeal process after more than 700 branch managers were wrongly handed criminal convictions. Fewer than 100 people have had their convictions quashed.

    In an appearance on BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, Sunak stated that everyone has been shocked by watching what they have done over the past few days and beyond and it is an appalling miscarriage of justice.

    “Actually seeing it and hearing about it again just shows what an appalling miscarriage of justice it is for everyone affected and it’s important that those people now get the justice they deserve.

    Asked by Kuenssberg if the Justice Secretary Alex Chalk was looking at whether all those convicted could be exonerated or the Post Office could be stripped of its role, Sunak said, “Obviously, there’s legal complexity in all of those things but he is looking at exactly those areas that you’ve described.

    “It is right that we find every which way we can do to try to make this right for the people who were so wrongfully treated at the time.”

    The Post Office had the power to decide on bringing the original prosecutions and its appointed lawyers presented the evidence in court. But one option now would be for the Crown Prosecution Service and its own lawyers to step in as appeals continue to be heard.

    Many victims of the scandal – which began in 1999 – are still fighting to have their convictions overturned or to secure full compensation after being forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their own money for shortfalls that were caused by Horizon accounting software.

    Sunak stated that the scandal was “an appalling miscarriage of justice”.

    The potential ways for the Post Office to be stripped of its role are considered, it is understood. According to Sunday Times, this includes whether the Crown Prosecution Service could take over, which may make it easier for convictions to be quashed.

    A source told the Sunday Times that Chalk had long held concerns about the ability of some arm’s-length bodies to mount private prosecutions, as well as the low rate of successful appeals among post office operators.

    However, some experts suggested such a move could require extra resources and have a knock-on effect on other cases.

    “The Director of Public Prosecutions [Stephen Parkinson] has to take that decision themselves, they have to do it independently,” Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Justice Select Committee, said. “I’m sure they’d look at it, they have to look at each case independently on its merits. To do that I think you’d probably need extra resources.

    “And then the final point is, of course, the Court of Appeal would have to make time to hear these cases and so there would need to be the agreement of the Ministry of Justice to make judges available and that might mean other cases going further down the queue.”

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