Announcement imminent on plan to overturn Horizon subpostmasters’ convictions
Plans to clear the names of hundreds of Post Office branch managers wrongly convicted in the Horizon IT scandal are to be announced “imminently”.
Rishi Sunak will face MPs for Prime Minister’s Questions and is under pressure to set out how the Government will exonerate hundreds of subpostmasters accused of swindling money as a result of the flawed computer system.
The Government says compensation has been paid to more than 2,700 claimants, but hundreds were also prosecuted over shortfalls in their branches caused by software errors.
Another 130 people have come forward after an ITV show dramatised what has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history, postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake said on Wednesday.
Mr Hollinrake said the Government is “very, very close” to announcing its plans to override the convictions, with an announcement “possibly” coming as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
He told Sky News he could not promise a “particular timeframe” because a decision “has not been finalised”.
The Government is considering emergency legislation to overturn all convictions but there are concerns that it could be seen to be interfering with the independent courts process by quashing them “en bloc”, Mr Hollinrake said.
He insisted ministers had been considering such an approach before ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office renewed focus on the scandal but said a decision has not yet been finalised.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether there was evidence of those considerations, the minister said: “It’s not something we’d put in public, the kind of deliberations we have in Government about different options, and clearly this is not an option where the postal affairs minister can make a decision on his own.”
Mr Hollinrake said there has always been a “sense of urgency” over compensation for victims of the Horizon scandal but stressed the “complexities” surrounding full and final settlements.
“There are some complexities around (making full and final payments), not least the ones you described because of the 980 postmasters that were convicted. So far 93 have managed to get their convictions overturned,” he told Times Radio.
“So there’s a problem there both in terms of the overturning of convictions when people do come forward, but also lots of people just don’t want to come forward or are not coming forward.”
He said he thinks part of this may be down to an understandable “nervousness” and a reluctance to deal with the Post Office again.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk told MPs on Tuesday that active consideration is being given to an emergency law to quash all the convictions.
Asked whether the Government is “ruling in” such an approach, Mr Hollinrake said: “We are definitely not ruling that out, but I can’t confirm that is the solution we will adopt right now.”
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