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Constance: 'Outrageous' to include Northern Ireland but not Scotland in Horizon bill

The UK Government will not extend its Post Office Horizon exoneration bill to Scotland | Alamy

Constance: 'Outrageous' to include Northern Ireland but not Scotland in Horizon bill

Justice Secretary Angela Constance has slammed the UK Government’s “typical” and “outrageous” attitude towards Scotland after it was confirmed that the legislation exonerating Post Office Horizon victims will be extended to Northern Ireland but not to Scotland.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake yesterday announced that the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, which will overturn all English and Welsh convictions brought using Horizon evidence, will be extended to Northern Ireland, saying that the Stormont government “does not have the ability to rapidly address the 26 convictions known to be within its purview”.

While Constance has repeatedly urged the minister to also include Scotland in the legislation, he said it would not be possible to do so.

“Scotland has an historically separate legal jurisdiction to England and Wales, and the Lord Advocate and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service [COPFS] had a unique role in respect of prosecutions in Scotland,” he said

“Additionally, the Scottish Government do not have the same kind of obligations to consult on new legislation as in Northern Ireland or challenges resulting from the NI Assembly not sitting for nearly two years.

“The Scottish Government has already indicated that they are bringing forward legislation and the UK Government will continue to support them in developing their proposals to overturn all convictions relating to the Horizon scandal.”

Constance said that she “fully supports” the extension of the bill to Northern Ireland but added that it is “outrageous that the UK Government has declined to also include Scotland”.

“This ignoring of Scotland is typical of Westminster’s attitude,” she said. “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.”

In total, around 700 people across the UK were convicted of various crimes including fraud, false accounting and theft after a faulty IT system built for the Post Office by UK Government contractor Fujitsu led to apparent shortfalls in sub-postmasters’ accounts.

In England and Wales the cases were prosecuted by the Post Office itself while in Scotland, where the Post Office is a specialist reporting agency, they were led by COPFS.

The Westminster bill will automatically clear everyone affected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, allowing them to become eligible for compensation payments of £600,000.

The Scottish Government has said it will bring forward similar legislation in Scotland but must wait until the UK bill passes before it can bring its own version forward. The UK bill is not expected to pass until the summer.

In the absence of such legislation the current process in Scotland requires those affected to ask the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to review their case and, if it concludes there has been a miscarriage of justice, to refer it to the Court of Appeal to overturn.

So far only six cases have been overturned via this route and COPFS estimates that there are around 50 more unsound Horizon convictions on the record.

In all six cases that have so far been heard the Crown offered no objection to the appeal, meaning the convictions could be overturned on an administrative basis.

Given the Crown’s approach there have been calls for Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC to instruct the court to administratively quash all outstanding convictions, a move she has so far resisted.

Senior judge Lady Dorrian is due to publish a written opinion on the previous appeals in the coming weeks, with legal sources suggesting this could pave the way for Scottish sub-postmasters to be exonerated without the need for a bill here.

First Minister Humza Yousaf echoed Constance's claim about the UK Government, using social media platform X to demand the prime minister "change course".

"The UK Government's decision to extend Horizon legislation to every nation in the UK except Scotland is scandalous," he wrote.

"The fact the Tories are willing to use Scottish victims of the Royal Mail's Horizon system as a political football is unforgivable. The PM must change course."

A UK Government spokesperson 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.”

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