"The victims must get justice and compensation."
A new law will be introduced so people wrongly convicted in the Post Office scandal are “swiftly exonerated and compensated”.
During the first Prime Minister’s Questions of 2024, Rishi Sunak announced his intention to enact a new law ensuring the prompt exoneration and compensation of individuals wrongly convicted in connection with the Post Office scandal.
The new primary legislation is yet to be published or given a timetable for voting.
In addition to its introduction, Mr Sunak said those who were part of the group litigation order against the Post Office would be eligible for an “upfront payment of £75,000”.
Following the airing of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, the scandal has been thrust back into the spotlight and the government has come under increased pressure to take action.
Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 Post Office branch managers were wrongly accused of stealing money.
In actual fact, the shortfalls were down to faulty Horizon software.
This saw some innocent people jailed while others became bankrupt.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Sunak said:
“Mr Speaker, this is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history.
“People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own.
“The victims must get justice and compensation.
“Sir Wyn Williams’ inquiry is undertaking crucial work to undo, to expose what went wrong, and we’ve paid almost £150 million in compensation to over to 2,500 victims.
“But today I can announce that we will introduce new primary legislation to make sure that those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated.
“We will also introduce a new upfront payment of £75,000 for the vital [Group Litigation Order] group of postmasters.”
Several methods for expediting the reversal of convictions had been discussed before the announcement on January 10, 2024
Some suggested a collective appeal before the Court of Appeal, while others advocated for legislative measures or even a royal pardon to nullify the convictions.
The exact procedures for the Commons to overturn hundreds of prosecutions remain unclear at this time.
Responding to Mr Sunak, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said:
“Mr Speaker, I heard what the prime minister just said about the Post Office scandal – it is a huge injustice.”
“People lost their lives, their liberty and their livelihood, and they’ve been waiting far too long for the truth, for justice, and for compensation.
“So I’m glad the prime minister is putting forward a proposal.
“We will look at the details, and I think it’s the job of all of us to make sure that it delivers the justice that is so needed.”