Like many of my Parliamentary colleagues across the House, I am appalled by the treatment of the sub-postmasters who were accused of theft based on flawed evidence from the Horizon IT system. This is the worst miscarriage of justice this century. Victims' accounts of the impact of these prosecutions are harrowing: some served prison sentences; many had their livelihoods and life savings decimated; marriages broke down; four committed suicide; others passed away before being able to clear their names; and many were ostracised by their local communities and as a result failed to find alternative work.
Whilst concerns were reportedly raised with Governments since 2009, with no action taken serious damage has been done. As this damage cannot be undone, this Government must establish what went wrong. I am aware that nobody at either the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held directly accountable. The Government has already taken action, appointing Sir Wyn Williams to review the decision-making processes that led to the scandal. I understand that Sir Wyn has published his interim report, and I have urged the Government to provide a timely response. I have also lobbied the Ministry of Justice to speed up the legal processes which are hindering the delivery of justice, including any potential for legislative changes.
You can read Sir Wyn’s interim report here:
The Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill will ensure that the victims of this scandal do not miss out on compensation because of any arbitrary deadline set within the process. The Government has stated it is determined to make compensation claims as soon as possible and by the current deadline of August 2024. However, in certain complex cases, I believe it is reasonable for more time to be taken, if necessary, so postmasters receive full and fair compensation and are not unduly rushed into making a decision on their claims.
Once this legislation is passed and convictions have been quashed, individuals will be entitled to at least £600,000 in compensation to rebuild their lives.
For information, to date, more than £148 million has been paid to 2,700 victims across all compensation schemes, 93 convictions have been overturned and, of those, 30 have agreed full and final settlements. Just over £30 million has been paid out in compensation to those with overturned convictions, including interim payments. But the fight for justice will continue.
In order to speed the flow of compensation for those in the Group Litigation Order scheme (who were part of the High Court Group Litigation Order), the Government has announced that an upfront offer of £75,000 will be made, which will save them from having to go through a full assessment. If they believe they are entitled to more, they are able to continue with the full assessment.
The harm that these prosecutions have wreaked on the affected families over the past 20 years is irreparable, and I am as outraged as you are about what these people had to endure. Lessons should be learnt to ensure that an injustice of this magnitude never happens again.
UPDATE 10 January 2024:
Emergency legislation is being brought forward as soon as possible to overturn convictions of all those convicted in England and Wales on the basis of Post Office evidence given during the Horizon scandal. The Government will also consider whether to include the small number of cases that have already been considered by the appeals courts and their convictions upheld. The Government recognises that this is an exceptional step, however these are exceptional circumstances.
It is essential that this legislation is brought to Parliament as soon as possible, and I will be working with Ministers and Parliamentary colleagues to ensure that this is the case.
Lastly, the former Chief Executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennells has confirmed she will hand back her CBE. I believe that this is the right decision. The Government's focus continues to be on ensuring all those whose lives were torn apart have swifter access to compensation and justice.