Press release

Wrongful Post Office convictions to be quashed through landmark legislation: 13 March 2024

Hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters wrongly convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal will have convictions quashed following landmark legislation introduced today [Wednesday 13 March].

  • Government introduces new legislation to automatically quash convictions relating to the Horizon Scandal
  • £75,000 redress payment extended to ensure swift and fairer redress for postmasters who weren’t convicted but suffered as a result of the scandal
  • Comes as £179 million paid to around 2,800 victims so far with further measures introduced to accelerate payments

Hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters wrongly convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal will have convictions quashed following landmark legislation introduced today [Wednesday 13 March].  

This blanket exoneration, delivered through the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, will quash convictions brought about by erroneous Horizon evidence, clearing the names of many people who have had their lives ruined.   

Affected sub-postmasters will receive an interim payment with the option of immediately taking a fixed and final offer of £600,000, so that they can finally begin to rebuild their lives. 

Under the proposed Bill, convictions will be automatically quashed if they meet the following criteria: 

  • Were prosecuted by the Post Office or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
  • Were for offences carried out in connection with Post Office business between 1996 and 2018. 
  • Were for relevant offences such as theft, fraud and false accounting.
  • Were against sub-postmasters, their employees, officers, family members or direct employees of the Post Office working in a Post Office that used the Horizon system software. 

Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak MP, said:  

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. 

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 Government has also confirmed it will bring forward enhanced financial redress for postmasters who were not convicted, or part of legal action against the Post Office, but who still suffered considerably due to Horizon failures. These individuals, also known as the Horizon Shortfall Scheme cohort, will have the option to receive a fixed sum payment of £75,000.  

Those who have already settled for less money will have their redress topped up to this level bringing them in line with the successful approach taken for members of the Group Litigation Order group of postmasters. 

The Department for Business and Trade will now be responsible for delivering the new Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme which will make redress payments to those who have had their convictions quashed by today’s legislation. The aim is to have the scheme open for applications as soon as possible once the legislation has been passed.  

Postal Affairs Minister, Kevin Hollinrake MP, said: 

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. 

It is only right that postmasters have access to swift and fair compensation which is why those with overturned convictions have the option of immediately taking a fixed and final offer of £600,000 and why we are changing the rules for those in the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, so they are entitled to a £75,000 fixed sum award, bypassing the assessment process.  

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.” 

Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch MP, said:  

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.

This is just the latest step in the road to delivering the justice the postmasters deserve. Since the High Court ruling in December 2019, this government has established a Statutory Inquiry, paid millions in compensation, supportedlegal fees for victims and announced plans to overturn convictions. 

That is government in action, and we won’t rest until every victim receives the compensation they are entitled to.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk MP, said:  

Today’s legislation is a watershed moment for sub-postmasters who have campaigned tirelessly for justice in the wake of the Horizon scandal.  

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.”  

The Horizon IT Scandal is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history which dates back to the 1990s, and this Government has gripped it to right the wrongs of the past. But this doesn’t come from a standing start – the Government has spent years getting us to this point. 

In February 2020, the Government launched the independent Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened and ensure it can never happen again. The first government-funded compensation payment was paid out via the Horizon Shortfall Scheme in March 2021 and – since then – it has paid out around 60% of all claims. This amounts to around £179 million to over 2,800 claimants – but this legislation will speed up justice and get the rightful redress for victims much more rapidly. 

The Bill will extend and apply to England and Wales. The Government will continue to work closely with their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland as they develop their own plans. Regardless of where or how convictions are quashed, redress will be paid to victims across the whole of the UK on the same basis. 

The Horizon Compensation Advisory Board’s Chair, Professor Christopher Hodges, said:  

The Government has taken rapid and decisive action to address the widespread injustice to which we drew attention in December.  

We also welcome the Government’s decision to take direct responsibility for delivering fair compensation to those whose convictions are overturned.”  

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham and member of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, said: 

It’s great news that the Government has taken the advice of the independent Advisory Board, on which I sit, and introduced the Post Office Offences Bill. 

This will exonerate hundreds of victims who were convicted as a result of the Post Office Horizon IT system. 

It is essential that we get this Bill passed as soon as possible before Summer recess so that those affected can get the justice and compensation they have fought so long for.” 

The Government acknowledges the risk that this legislation could quash convictions of people who were genuinely guilty of a crime. In line with the wishes of campaigners the Government will make all efforts to ensure this is targeted on those wrongly convicted and make sure nobody who defrauded the system is able to access taxpayer-funded compensation.   

Before receiving financial redress, sub-postmasters will be required to sign a legal statement vowing that they did not commit the crime for which they were originally convicted. Any person found to have signed a statement falsely in order to gain financial redress may be guilty of fraud. 

The Government will continue to push this legislation through Parliament with the aim of achieving Royal Assent as soon as possible ahead of summer recess. Redress will be delivered as swiftly as possible after the quashing of convictions are processed. 

The Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, which includes long time parliamentary campaigners on this issue such as Lord Arbuthnot, Professor Christopher Hodges and Kevan Jones MP, has warmly welcomed the proposed legislation.

Published 13 March 2024