Cheltenham MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk has announced that hundreds of innocent postmasters who were wrongfully convicted due to the Horizon scandal will have their names cleared under new laws to be brought forward by the Government.
The scandal, which has been highlighted in a recent Panorama focus and dramatised by the BBC, showed how hundreds of Postmasters were wrongly accused and convicted of fraud and theft, some of whom even took their own lives.
Paula Vennels CBE, who was CEO at the time, has also come under fire for her part in the scandal along with former colleagues.
The blanket exoneration will overturn hundreds of convictions, brought about thanks to erroneous Horizon evidence, clearing the names of many people who have had their lives ruined. The Government has committed to making sure these convictions are overturned later this year, meaning victims do not need to wait years and years for the justice they deserve.
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.
Cheltenham MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk said: “Fairness is a core pillar of our justice system and there can be no doubt hundreds of innocent post-masters and post-mistresses – including here in Cheltenham – have suffered an intolerable miscarriage of justice at the hands of the Post Office.
“These are truly exceptional circumstances, and we must right this wrong quickly, ensuring those convicted can be fairly and swiftly compensated.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in this country’s history, with hundreds of people having their lives ruined and reputations dragged through mud.
“Too many still have wrongful convictions tied to their name, and we cannot continue to fail them.
“We must do everything we can to exonerate and compensate these innocent people, and make sure they finally get the justice they deserve.”
Sir Wyn Williams’ Inquiry, set up in 2020 to look at issues of governance in the Post Office, will continue its vital work and provide a full public record of how this miscarriage of justice was able to take place.
In the coming days, the government will consider whether this blanket exoneration should apply to the small number of convictions which have been upheld by the appeal courts.
The government recognises that this Bill may lead to the overturning of some convictions that were rightfully brought. In line with the wishes of some of the victims, the government will therefore introduce safeguards to make sure anyone who was rightly convicted, and is now trying to take advantage of compensation schemes, can be prosecuted in the future.
Legislation will apply to England and Wales only. Conversations with other UK jurisdictions remain ongoing.