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by Louise Wilson
22 February 2024
Scottish Government urges UK ministers to extend Post Office exoneration law to Scotland

Justice secretary Angela Constance said her government would legislate “if necessary” | Alamy

Scottish Government urges UK ministers to extend Post Office exoneration law to Scotland

The Scottish Government will continue to urge the UK Government to extend the legislation exonerating wrongly convicted Post Office workers after UK ministers unveiled a law which will only apply to those in England and Wales.

Scottish justice secretary Angela Costance said she would introduce Scotland-specific legislation “if necessary” but the “preferred option” is to give effect to Westminster legislation north of the border.

And she warned that if the Scottish Parliament did have to legislate, it could take some time as the Scottish Government would have to wait for the passage of UK legislation first.

The UK Government plans will clear the name of hundreds of former sub-postmasters who were convicted between 1999 and 2015 due to a faulty computer system called Horizon by the end of July.

Ministers have said that while blanket exoneration will likely lead to some people who are genuinely guilty of committing a crime, this was “a price worth paying” given the extent of the issue.

A number of sub-postmasters, including some based in Scotland, have already had their convictions quashed but there has been significant criticism that the process to do this has been too slow.

This also impacts access to the UK compensation scheme.

While justice is a wholly devolved issue, Scottish ministers believe UK-wide legislation would be the quickest route to resolving the matter.

Constance said: “We will introduce Scottish legislation if necessary but it is likely that would need to be after a UK bill had passed to ensure full compatibility with UK legislation and the UK compensation scheme, in which the Scottish Government has no locus.

“Due to the reserved nature of some of the issues involved, there may be areas the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate on and we will be reliant on further UK legislation. This will introduce additional time and complexity. In addition, the Scottish Parliament has no powers to compel UK ministers or the Post Office to provide evidence to parliament.

“Our priority is to ensure full parity for everyone affected by this miscarriage of justice, which is why we will continue to strongly express that our preferred option is to use a legislative consent motion to extend any UK bill to cover Scotland.”

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, headed by the lord advocate, was in charge of prosecuting Scottish sub-postmasters – in contrast to England and Wales, where the Post Office was able to do so through private prosecution.

Dorothy Bain KC, the current lord advocate, apologised to victims last month. She continued to blame the Post Office for failing to disclose that problems with Horizon were widespread.

Prosecutors in Scotland were not told to stop progress on Post Office cases until 2015, two years after issues with Horizon were first raised.

Addressing parliament, Bain also failed to back mass exoneration of victims because not every case would be a miscarriage of justice.

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