The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has referred another case relating to the Post Office Horizon IT scandal for appeal due to concerns about bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon computing system that may have led to the original conviction. Nalini Joshi, a former sub-postmistress, applied to the CCRC in June 2021 after the Court of Appeal quashed 39 Post Office convictions in April 2021. Joshi had previously plead guilty to four counts of false accounting at Fenland Magistrates’ Court in November 2001 and had been sentenced to a community punishment order consisting of 120 hours of unpaid work, costs amounting to over £1,000, and compensation of around £6,200 to the Post Office.
Joshi had not previously been able to challenge her conviction prior to her CCRC application due to the absence of a right to appeal for defendants who plead guilty in a magistrates’ court. As a statutory body established under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, the CCRC are empowered to determine whether to refer a case for appeal by considering whether, as a result of fresh evidence or argument, there is a ‘real possibility’ that a conviction, verdict, finding or sentence would not be upheld by the courts. According to figures disclosed to Parliament, the Commission usually receive around 1,400 applications for reviews of convictions and sentences each year but have only referred around 3% of its application to the appeal courts since starting work in 1997.
‘[T]he reliability of data from the Horizon computer system was essential to the case against Ms Joshi,’ acknowledged the CCRC in a press statement issued on June 24th. ‘In light of what is now known about Horizon, the CCRC has concluded that there is a real possibility that the Crown Court will set aside Ms Joshi’s guilty plea and stay proceedings as an abuse of process.’
The announcement of the latest CCRC referral arrives in the wake of public scrutiny of the rate of redress for those wrongfully convicted due to defects in the Horizon computing system. Last month, the chair of the statutory inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal Sir Wyn Williams announced that he would bring forward the hearings focused on compensation issues following the conclusion of the human impact phase of the proceedings. Williams had previously stated that he was ‘reasonably unhappy’ at the apparent ‘loophole’ in the government-funded interim compensation scheme that prevents those who were acquitted amongst the over 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses from receiving compensation.
As previously reported by The Justice Gap, all victims of the scandal are expected to receive compensation by the end of the year. However, and as revealed by freedom of information requests made by the Justice Gap, the Ministry of Justice had almost completely stopped paying out compensation to the wrongly convicted as a result of a change in the law in 2014. The criterion for the statutory compensation scheme for miscarriages of justice is currently set out under Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1998, but because of an amendment to the scheme made under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, applicants must be able to prove their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. Only a total of eight payouts have been made under the new arrangements as of July 2021; not a penny had been paid out last year.