Remaining Sub-Postmaster Convictions Quashed in Scotland

A law came into force on Friday exonerating those wrongly convicted in Scotland in the Horizon scandal, after a similar law took effect in the rest of the UK.
Remaining Sub-Postmaster Convictions Quashed in Scotland
Former sub-postmistress Seema Misra outside the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at Aldwych House, central London, on May 22, 2024. (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
Lily Zhou

All sub-postmasters wrongly convicted as part of the Horizon scandal in Scotland have been automatically exonerated as a new law came into force on Friday.

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Act quashed convictions in Scotland during a period when faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their Post Office branches.

The new Scottish law received Royal Assent on Thursday and took effect on Friday, three weeks after a similar law took effect in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Under the law, all sub-postmasters convicted of embezzlement, fraud, theft, uttering, or an ancillary offence, are exonerated if the offences were allegedly committed fully or partly between Sept. 23, 1996 and Dec. 31, 2018. And those affected will be entitled to UK government compensation, which is set to be in place by summer.

The exoneration will also apply to those who meet the criteria but previously had their appeals refused in the High Court.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 Post Office branch managers around the UK have been prosecuted when the faulty system was in place.

About 100 sub-postmasters in Scotland were convicted after they were wrongly accused of embezzling money, and many around the UK have had their convictions overturned in recent years.

Last month, an inquiry heard that Jarnail Singh, former senior in-house lawyer at the Post Office, knew about bugs in the Horizon system as early as 2010, although Mr. Singh denied he had opened and printed the report emailed to him.

The Scottish Government said on Thursday that it will notify those affected and ensure police and court records are amended.

In an open letter to postmasters, Scotland’s Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: “The Horizon IT Scandal represents an unprecedented miscarriage of justice. Many of you have been profoundly impacted by it.

“The impact has not just been financial, we know that many of you lost your home and businesses and were made bankrupt. We are also aware of the toll it took on your mental and physical health.”

The minister said while the hurt and harm can never to fully remedied, the law would clear the sub-postmasters’ names and ensure their “swift access to the financial redress.”

Sub-Postmistress’s Son May Be Covered

During a court hearing in Edinburgh on Friday, a lawyer said his client, the son of a sub-postmistress who admitted to stealing £35,000 to save his mother from being sent to prison, may be covered by the new law.

Ravinder Naga, who was given 300 hours’ community service in February 2010 after pleading guilty at Greenock Sheriff Court, requested a review of his conviction and sentence in 2022, and the Scottish Cases Review Commission referred it to the High Court of the Justiciary, saying Naga had “pled guilty in circumstances that were, or could be said to be, clearly prejudicial to him.”

Judge Lady Dorrian opened the hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Friday by asking advocates if they had reached a view on whether Naga was covered by the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences (Scotland) Act, which came into effect the same day.

Lewis Kennedy, representing Naga, said he believes his client is covered by the legislation, while Brian Gill, KC, for the Crown, indicated it would be a matter for ministers to determine.

Lady Dorrian said “at the heart of this case is a simple issue,” saying there is “no doubt” it involved a sum of money that was linked to the Horizon scandal, plus another sum that she said was currently “undetermined.”

She said: “The only issues are whether, had the deficiencies in the Horizon system been known of at the time, would that have made a difference to the statements made or the admissions made by the individual, and would it have made a difference to the conviction.

“It’s impossible for this court to understand why it’s taken so long for this to be determined.”

She ordered a two-day appeal hearing to begin on Sept. 26.

PA Media contributed to this report.