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by Louise Wilson
11 January 2024
‘Serious questions’ for Crown Office over Post Office prosecutions

The Post Office Horizon scandal dominated FMQs | Alamy

‘Serious questions’ for Crown Office over Post Office prosecutions

The Crown Office has “serious questions to answer” for its role in prosecuting Post Office workers in Scotland, Douglas Ross has said.

The Scottish Tory leader said despite being made aware of problems with the Horizon IT system in 2013, prosecutions continued through to 2015.

First Minister Humza Yousaf committed to working with the UK Government to resolve the problem.

He said: “Sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have waited far too long for justice. It’s incumbent on all of us to get them not just access to that justice, but access to compensation.”

More than 700 sub-postmasters were prosecuted across the UK after being wrongly accused of embezzling money between 1999 and 2015. The issue was in fact due to faulty computing software.

The UK Government announced fast-track legislation to quash the convictions in England and Wales on Wednesday.

This legislation would not normally apply to Scotland but Yousaf said he would consider a legislation consent motion to ensure the up to 100 Scottish people wrongfully prosecuted would be covered by this bill.

Ross said it was important to “overturn convictions as quickly as possible”, adding the Post Office's actions were “despicable and probably criminal”.

But he also called for more information on the Crown Office's role in Scotland. In England, the Post Office went through a process of private prosecution but in Scotland all cases were the responsibility of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Ross said the Crown Office was made aware of issues with the Horizon IT software in January 2013, and had a legal duty to disclose this information. He added: “Does the first minister agree that Scotland’s Crown Office has serious questions to answer here?”

He also urged the Lord Advocate, who is head of COPFS, to come to parliament to take questions from MSPs, a call backed by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

The first minister said the Lord Advocate was "willing to consider" coming to parliament.

He added there were “legitimate questions to ask of the Crown”, but highlighted that between 2013 and 2015 guidance was provided to prosecutors to treat cases with “individual regard to the fact and circumstances” rather than relying on evidence based on Horizon.

After 2015, prosecutors were than told not to proceed with any Post Office case which depended on that evidence.

Yousaf added: “The real questions, of course, are for the Post Office and the information the Post Office provided not just to the Crown, to government ministers as well.”

Sarwar called for an investigation into the actions of the Post Office, saying it had “behaved like a private police force”.

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