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Published 18:31 IST, January 10th 2024

Sunak Announces Bill to Exonerate UK Post Office Scandal Victims

Rishi Sunak has announced a plan to enact legislation that will nullify the convictions of the hundreds of post office operators wrongly implicated.

Reported by: Manasvi Asthana
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The Great British Post Office scandal | Image: rishi sunak
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Rishi Sunak has announced a plan to enact legislation that will nullify the convictions of the hundreds of post office operators wrongly implicated in the Horizon IT scandal. During the prime minister's questions, Sunak stated that the government plans to introduce fresh primary legislation "to make sure those convicted are swiftly exonerated and compensated."

“This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history,” Sunak told the MPs.  

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“People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation,” he added.

He asserted that the truth will be brought to light, past wrongs will be righted and justice will be ensured.

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Additional information on the issue will be disclosed by Kevin Hollinrake, the business minister, as he addresses an urgent question immediately following PMQs, as mentioned by the prime minister. In response to Sunak, Keir Starmer stated that Labour would scrutinise the plan's details but expressed appreciation for the proposal to address what he termed a "huge injustice."

The extensively discussed idea, which entails parliament overturning judgments from various courts is unprecedented in its magnitude. It is a response to concerns about the sluggish progress in exonerating the staff through the criminal review process.

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Although a public inquiry into the scandal was established in 2020, its significance in the political sphere has surged following the airing of an ITV drama, "Mr. Bates vs the Post Office." This drama spotlighted the story of Alan Bates, a post office operator turned advocate.

The Post Office, which has the power to instigate prosecutions, prosecuted more than 900 branch owner-operators who were wrongly accused of taking money from their businesses between 1999 and 2015, based on information from the faulty Horizon accounting software, installed by Fujitsu.

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Even though the Post Office eventually admitted wrongdoing by Dec., only 142 appeal case reviews had been finalised. Within this, 93 convictions were successfully overturned while 54 were either upheld, withdrawn or denied permission to appeal.

Speaking on Wed. morning, Hollinrake told a local radio outlet that the government had always been operating with a “sense of urgency” over compensation, rather than suddenly acting after the ITV drama.

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However, he remarked that following the broadcast, at least 130 individuals affected by the Horizon scandal had approached him directly or through solicitors.

When asked if there was evidence that the government had been working to quash convictions before the ITV drama, Hollinrake 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.”

He added that if legislation was brought forward to overturn convictions “en bloc” it could be seen to be “interfering with the independent courts process”.

 

18:31 IST, January 10th 2024