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Holyrood passes Bill to quash convictions of Horizon subpostmasters

Holyrood has passed legislation to exonerate subpostmasters wrongly convicted in the Post Office Horizon scandal (PA)
Holyrood has passed legislation to exonerate subpostmasters wrongly convicted in the Post Office Horizon scandal (PA)

Holyrood has passed “unprecedented” legislation to exonerate subpostmasters in Scotland who were wrongly convicted as part of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said the Bill, passed by 116 votes to zero at Holyrood on Thursday, will “address the horrific miscarriage of justice that has ruined the lives of many”.

She told MSPs the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Bill will “help Scottish subpostmasters clear their names” and also ensure they are treated in the same way as other Horizon victims in different parts of the UK.

Ms Constance said: “Through this Bill, we are ensuring that Scottish subpostmasters are not disadvantaged compared to those in the rest of the UK in respect of the quashing of their convictions, and that they are able to access the UK Government compensation scheme.”

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish Government had acted ‘as swiftly as possible’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Bill means those convicted of “relevant offences” will have them automatically quashed when the legislation comes into force.

Ms Constance said for an offence to be considered “relevant”, the time it took place and the type of crime would be considered.

The person convicted would need to have been working in a Post Office at the time, and the conviction would need to be connected to Post Office business.

In addition, the Horizon system would have to have been in use by the Post Office where they were working at the time.

The UK Parliament has already passed similar legislation to clear the convictions of subpostmasters involved in the Horizon scandal, which has been described as the “greatest miscarriage of justice” in the legal system.

The UK Government did not extend the scope of its legislation to cover Scotland, citing the separate legal system north of the border, thus requiring the Scottish Government to bring forward its own Bill.

Russell Findlay
Tory Russell Findlay said all parties at Holyrood at worked together to ensure the smooth passage of the legislation (PA)

By treating that as emergency legislation, Ms Constance said Scottish ministers had acted to secure “justice for the victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal as swiftly as possible”.

She added: “I know this Bill is unprecedented. However I hope that members will recognise this is the only way we can ensure Scottish postmasters are not left behind.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay noted the Bill had only been published 16 days ago – saying work by all political parties had ensured it could be passed “quickly and smoothly”.

He added: “Once passed, Scotland’s wrongly convicted postmasters will have their names instantly cleared, their criminal convictions quashed.”

While he agreed the legislation was “unprecedented”, he added that the “sickening mass miscarriage of justice” made it necessary.

Labour’s Katy Clarke said her party also backed the Bill for the “blanket exoneration” of those convicted based on Horizon evidence.

Ms Clark added: “All of those convicted should have their convictions quashed and indeed access to the compensation fund.”