• Saturday, April 20, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Sunak pays tribute as government moves to overturn Post Office convictions

“I want to pay tribute to all the postmasters who have shown such courage and perseverance in their fierce campaign for justice,” said Sunak.

Rishi Sunak walks outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By: Pramod Thomas

PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak paid tribute to hundreds of Post Office branch managers, including several British Asians, as a new law to quash their wrongful convictions was introduced on Wednesday (13).

Sunak had pledged action in the historic Post Office scandal involving a faulty accounting software named Horizon, which wrongly accused sub-postmasters of fraud.

The government, which formally owns Post Office Ltd, has paid out millions in compensation to many of the sub-postmasters impacted, but there have been many others still waiting for years to clear their name.

“I want to pay tribute to all the postmasters who have shown such courage and perseverance in their fierce campaign for justice and to those who tragically won’t see the justice they deserve,” said Sunak.

“While I know that nothing can make up for what they’ve been through, today’s legislation marks an important step forward in finally clearing their names. We owe it to the victims of this scandal who have had their lives and livelihoods callously torn apart to deliver the justice they’ve fought so long and hard for and to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

The self-employed sub-postmasters at the Post Office – many of them at the heart of their local communities – were prosecuted for alleged offences between 1996 and 2018.

Some served time in prison and many were financially ruined.

Public outrage about one of Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice erupted after ITV dramatised the managers’ campaign in “Mr Bates vs the Post Office” in January.

The government said on Wednesday that affected sub-postmasters would receive an interim payment and the option of a final offer of £600,000 so they could finally begin to rebuild their lives.

The government said it would also compensate sub-postmasters who were not convicted but who still suffered due to failures in the Horizon IT system, with an option to receive £75,000.

Legal experts had warned that legislating to quash convictions meant that politicians were meddling in the independent judicial process.

But the government and the main opposition said the exceptional circumstances of the cases demanded an exceptional response.

The government conceded there was a risk that some who were guilty of a crime could have their convictions overturned, but it said it would make every effort to target only those wrongly convicted.

It said it wanted legislation to be enacted by the summer, with payments made as quickly as possible after convictions were annulled.

No one from the Post Office or its IT supplier Fujitsu has been charged with any offences related to the scandal.

“Postmasters have been fighting for justice for years, and I hope the introduction of today’s legislation is the light at the end of the tunnel they have been waiting for… For those who don’t choose this option, their claims can be assessed as part of the usual scheme process, in which there is no limit to compensation,” said postal affairs minister Kevin Hollinrake.

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) has now been made responsible for delivering the new Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme, which will make redress payments to those who have had their convictions quashed by the legislation.

“It is absolutely right that we sweep away the convictions wrongly given to postmasters on the basis of bad evidence, and it is a disgrace that they were ever pursued by the Post Office,” said business secretary Kemi Badenoch.

Justice secretary Alex Chalk said, “These are exceptional circumstances which require an exceptional response to ensure those who were wrongly convicted can not only clear their names but be fairly and swiftly compensated.”

In 2019, a London High Court ruling had approved a £57.8 million settlement between hundreds of claimants and the Post Office but many were still left to overturn their convictions.

(Agencies)

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