The government has announced that every victim of the Post Office Horizon scandal will receive £600,000 compensation.
Every sub-postmaster whose wrongful conviction relied on evidence from the Horizon computer system is entitled to the money, with ‘no ifs or buts’.
To date, 86 wrongful convictions have been overturned. Many of the postmasters were wrongfully imprisoned for fraud or false accounting, were shunned by their communities, or even took their own lives. At least 30 of the victims have died before seeing justice done.
In an announcement on Monday, the government said reasonable legal fees will continue to be covered for those pursuing cases in the Court of Appeal. Victims who have already received compensation less than £600,000 will now also be entitled to the difference.
Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake said of the scheme: ‘This is about righting a wrong and providing some form of relief to those wrongfully caught up in this scandal.
‘Too many Postmasters have suffered and for too long, which is why the Government remains committed to seeing this through to the end until it is resolved and ensuring this cannot ever happen again.’
The government’s previous compensation scheme, announced in July 2021, offered ‘interim payments’ of £100,000. This was offered alongside £900 to cover legal fees, described by the Law Society as a ‘laughably small’ sum.
This scheme was established to include the 555 claimants in the 2019 case Bates v Post Office, who had been excluded from other compensation schemes. This was despite the fact that legal fees claimed nearly 80% of the original settlement, leaving individual claimants received only c. £20,000 each.
The earlier ‘Historical Shortfall Scheme’ was targeted at those affected by Horizon but not claimants in Bates v Post Office. The Post Office made 2,240 offers of compensation under this scheme, at an average of £33,000 per claimant. This scheme was described at the time as ‘exceptionally slow, [providing] unfair and low offers to unrepresented postmasters.’
Many of the victims of the Horizon scandal have received compensation that has not covered their legal costs in challenging their conviction. Others have not even been able to repay the debts accrued as a result of using their own money to counteract the workings of a digital accounting system which was ‘fundamentally unsound’.
The scandal is considered to be the largest miscarriage of justice in UK history, and the question of appropriate compensation has loomed over the subsequent legal proceedings. The inquiry into the scandal is expected to conclude next year.