Emergency Post Office Horizon legislation introduced to Scottish Parliament

Justice secretary Angela Constance said the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Bill would ‘right this terrible wrong’

Emergency legislation to exonerate victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

SNP justice secretary Angela Constance said innocent sub-postmasters had their lives ruined and the Bill would “right this terrible wrong”. The UK government has already introduced legislation covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Scottish ministers previously said the failure to extend this to Scotland was a “betrayal” of victims. However, the UK government said it was more appropriate for Holyrood to legislate, given the separate legal system.

Picture: James Manning/PA WirePicture: James Manning/PA Wire
Picture: James Manning/PA Wire

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Bill will automatically quash relevant convictions. Victims will then be able to access the UK’s financial redress scheme.

In January, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC, Scotland’s top law officer, told MSPs “not every case involving Horizon evidence will be a miscarriage of justice and each case must be considered carefully and with regard to the law”. This latest move appears to contradict that argument. Ms Bain is due to give a statement to MSPs on Thursday.

Ms Constance said: “Innocent sub-postmasters had their lives ruined by being wrongly convicted of offences of dishonesty on the evidence of the faulty Post Office Horizon system. The quickest, easiest route to overturn these miscarriages of justice would have been for the UK government to extend their Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill to cover sub-postmasters in Scotland.

"However, our repeated requests for this were refused. Our Bill, therefore, mirrors that of UK legislation to ensure parity for affected sub-postmasters in Scotland with those elsewhere in the UK and to ensure access to the UK Government’s compensation scheme.

“The scale of the scandal and the length of time that the victims have waited for justice means we are taking an unprecedented step of introducing legislation to right this terrible wrong and asking Parliament for it to be processed as an emergency Bill.”

The Bill will exonerate convicted sub-postmasters for offences committed between September 23, 1996 and December 31, 2018. It will not apply to those whose convictions have been considered by the High Court in connection with an appeal.

MSPs are expected to vote on the general principles of the Bill on May 21, while stage two amendments will be considered on May 22. However, the legislation will not pass its third and final stage until the UK Bill has been voted through.

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Ms Constance said: "The Scottish Government will not do anything to jeopardise equality and parity for victims, so the final stage of the Bill cannot be considered in the Scottish Parliament until after the UK legislation has been passed. This will ensure that MSPs can take account of any amendments made to the UK Bill.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said the legislation was “welcome and long overdue”.

The Tory MSP said: “SNP ministers knew from the outset that Scotland’s distinct legal system and prosecution mechanism required a separate law to deliver justice to Scottish sub-postmasters. But instead of getting on and delivering it, the SNP typically wasted time on a constitutional spat with the UK government, as well as creating confusion on whether they backed blanket exonerations.

“Given that this legislation looks to be largely a copy-and-paste job, Scottish victims of this appalling scandal have needlessly been kept in the dark for longer than those in the rest of the UK.”