The Memo: Post Office Horizon bill introduced by ministers

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Update: Post Office Horizon bill introduced by ministers

Emily Dunham - 18 March 2024

Back in January, we gave you the latest updates from the Post Office Inquiry. A quick refresher: between 1999 and 2015, 900 sub-postmasters were prosecuted based on information from Horizon, a faulty IT system introduced by the Post Office in 1999, which made it look as though sub-postmasters were committing offences of fraud and theft. Out of the hundreds of wrongful convictions made, only 93 were overturned. But now, ministers have introduced a bill in an attempt to provide justice, but it’s not without its own controversy.

The bill, published last Wednesday (13 March), is named the Post Office (Horizon system) offences bill, and will quash all convictions related to the scandal, including convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting. The government has recently been facing heavy criticism for failing to take action, and there have been concerns that compensation payments to victims of the scandal have been delayed. Further to the convictions themselves being unjust, individuals are not able to receive compensation until their convictions are overturned and, with hundreds of convictions made, that’s a lot to get through before justice is served.

However, the bill is pretty controversial to some. Parliament is responsible for making laws, while it is the courts that carry them out. So, by using legislation to overturn convictions in such a way, it has been argued that this will set a dangerous legal precedent as the power to carry out the law is being taken away from the courts. The legislation also means that some guilty people may be exonerated and could receive compensation as a result. The government aims to combat this by having individuals sign legal statements confirming their innocence, which would mean that they could be prosecuted for fraud later down the line if they are found to have lied.

Ministers aim to pass the bill by the end of July, though they must first follow the proper legislation process. In the UK, this means that the bill must be introduced into parliament and before it is debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Bills that get to this stage then receive Royal Assent and become law (i.e., an Act), so check back in the Summer to see if the bill becomes reality!