The board overseeing compensation for sub-postmasters, wrongly convicted due to faulty accounting software and a Post Office cover-up, has recommended all convictions be automatically quashed.
The Post Office Horizon scandal, labelled Britain’s most widespread miscarriage of justice, faces renewed scrutiny as the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board has insisted that until all convictions are quashed, the scandal cannot be put behind us.
More than 700 Post Office managers were wrongly convicted due to faulty accounting software, leading to financial ruin, the devastation of people’s lives and reputations, and for some, imprisonment. The scandal, rooted in the faulty Horizon software, has raised questions about systemic issues in the criminal justice system.
Victims like Wendy Cousins, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to avoid jail, have suffered irreparable harm. Her case, which reached the Court of Appeal in 2021, highlights the emotional toll as she passed away with her conviction still in place.
Prof Chris Hodges, from the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board said: ‘many victims remain traumatised and ostracised by their communities’.
The effects can also be felt by loved ones, like Wendy’s son Paul who expressed his ‘sadness and frustration’ this week. He said: ‘of course it’s great news for everyone’ (referring to the overturning of the Post Office convictions) but added that in his case an apology and more would need to be done to those who prosecuted his mother.
In September, the government pledged £600,000 compensation for each of those whose convictions were overturned in the Court of Appeal. However, only 93 of the over 700 convictions have been overturned so far, leaving many victims in limbo.
Criminal barrister Flora Page raised concerns about the challenges in delivering justice to all affected individuals, especially because the courts have previously refused some appeals. The recommendation to acquit everyone is seen as a significant move but may face constitutional challenges.
The Post Office has encouraged those wrongly convicted to consider appeals, while the Ministry of Justice acknowledges the hardships faced by postmasters. Over £130 million has been paid in compensation, and new legislation is being introduced to address the IT scandal’s aftermath.
The Ministry of Justice said: ‘we want the criminal appeals system to be as efficient and effective as possible’. The Law Commission has been tasked with reviewing potential reforms, with expectations for findings upon the review’s conclusion.