Post Office Horizon scandal: Legislation to clear victims in Scotland due by summer

Angela Constance said the decision to extend legislation to Northern Ireland but not Scotland was ‘outrageous’

The Scottish Government will seek to bring forward legislation to clear victims of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal before the summer.

It came as First Minister Humza Yousaf criticised the UK Government over its “outrageous” decision not to extend its proposed law to Scotland.

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He said he was “utterly furious” that Westminster had now agreed the Bill – which was originally proposed to cover only England and Wales – was now being extended to cover Northern Ireland, but still would not apply to Horizon victims in Scotland.

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

Mr Yousaf said: “It is hard to think that the UK Government are doing anything other than using our Scottish sub-postmasters and mistresses as a political pawn.

“That’s outrageous. It’s unacceptable. And I’ll be writing to the Prime Minister, in order to ask him to reverse that decision.”

Angela Constance, the justice secretary, accused the UK government of betraying victims north of the border.

The UK Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill will exonerate those convicted on the basis of the faulty Horizon accounting software.

Northern Ireland and Scotland were initially excluded, but UK Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake said it had become apparent the former “does not have the ability to rapidly address the 26 convictions known to be within its purview”.

The UK Government argues Scotland’s separate legal system makes it more appropriate for Holyrood to legislate.

More than 700 sub-postmasters in the UK were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches. Around 100 people in Scotland are believed to be affected.

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Ms Constance said: “We fully support the extension of this Bill to cover Northern Ireland, but it is outrageous that the UK Government has declined to also include Scotland.

“This ignoring of Scotland is typical of Westminster’s attitude. It means that sub-postmasters north of the border will be the only victims in the UK not covered by the legislation at Westminster, which is precisely where the miscarriage of justice has its origins and was overseen by successive Tory and Labour governments. It is a betrayal of Scotland’s Horizon victims for UK ministers to behave in this manner.

“The suffering inflicted on the sub-postmasters is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK legal history. They have waited far too long for justice, and do not deserve to be subject Westminster’s petty political point-scoring.

“We still hope that MPs overrule the UK Government and amend the legislation so that it covers Scotland – a series of amendments have been laid. But if that does not happen, Scottish legislation will be introduced. One way or another, the SNP will ensure that sub-postmasters in Scotland receive justice – despite the best efforts of Westminster.”

Scottish ministers previously warned bringing forward separate legislation could mean victims north of the border face a longer wait for justice. They were also keen to ensure it would be compatible with the UK-wide compensation scheme.

Mr Hollinrake said: “We always carefully consider the territorial extent of each piece of legislation and are rigorous in our commitment to devolution. However, it has become apparent that the Northern Ireland Executive does not have the ability to rapidly address the 26 convictions known to be within its purview.

“It has become clear that postmasters in Northern Ireland could have their convictions quashed significantly later than those who were convicted in England and Wales, which would be unacceptable.”

However, he said Scotland was a “historically separate legal jurisdiction”, noting prosecutions had not been carried out by the Post Office, as in England, but by the Crown Office.

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Mr Hollinrake said: “It remains the UK government’s view that it is more appropriate for the Scottish Government to bring forward proposals to address prosecutions on this matter in Scotland, and for these to be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.”

Affected postmasters across the UK will have the option of accepting a fixed sum offer of £600,000 after their conviction is quashed.

A UK Government spokeswoman said: "Justice is a devolved matter in Scotland, so it is right that Scottish ministers remain accountable for decisions taken in Scotland. The Scottish Government has already indicated that they are bringing forward legislation, and we will continue to support them in developing proposals to overturn all convictions relating to the Horizon scandal in Scotland.”

A source pointed to the separate nature of Scots law and the role of the Crown Office, adding: "In short, it is clearly not ‘outrageous’ that Holyrood should legislate in a devolved area – and it is a bit of a mystery why the Scottish Government might think otherwise.”

They said there was “a serious question mark over the NI Executive’s capacity to legislate for this quickly given the scale of their in-tray after the resumption of power sharing”, continuing: “A statutory requirement to consult in NI would also likely cause further delay to the small number of cases there.”

Tory MSP Russell Findlay said: “Humza Yousaf’s relentless constitutional grievance stoking on this issue is beyond tiresome.

“He is trying to whip up a frenzy among his nationalist base, rather than accepting that these prosecutions all occurred under Scotland’s separate legal system.

“The SNP First Minister should stop his posturing and get on with delivering justice for Scottish victims of this scandal.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the legislation “will deliver for those affected in NI as quickly as possible”.



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