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Publish Workplace informed UK authorities it might oppose appeals by half of convicted sub-postmasters Specific Instances

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The UK Publish Workplace privately informed ministers this month that it might have opposed appeals by almost half of the 700 sub-postmasters convicted utilizing knowledge from Fujitsu’s defective Horizon IT system.

The message got here days earlier than Prime Minister Rishi Sunak introduced unprecedented laws to acquit the sub-postmasters en masse, calling the affair “one of many biggest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s historical past”.

In a letter despatched to the Division for Enterprise and Commerce and Ministry of Justice, seen by the Monetary Instances, the Publish Workplace mentioned it believed that in 333 circumstances non-Horizon proof supported the convictions.

The Publish Workplace letter got here as the federal government was contemplating how to answer public outcry following an ITV dramatisation of the long-running scandal.

“On the knowledge at the moment out there . . . POL couldn’t correctly concede an attraction until additional data turns into out there,” the letter mentioned in reference to the 333 circumstances.

The letter drew criticism from a member of the government-appointed Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, Richard Moorhead.

“The folks writing that letter haven’t correctly absorbed the size of the injustice uncovered by the attorneys and investigators in the course of the inquiry,” mentioned Moorhead, referring to the statutory inquiry into the scandal.

“Nearly any proof coming from the Publish Workplace must begin with the idea that it’s now critically flawed,” he added.

Between 1999 and 2015, 700 sub-postmasters had been convicted in circumstances introduced by the Publish Workplace that concerned knowledge from the flawed Horizon IT system.

Each the Publish Workplace and Japan’s Fujitsu, the developer of Horizon, had been conscious of the system’s faults from its preliminary rollout in 1999 however maintained it was strong for 20 years.

The Excessive Courtroom dominated in 2019 that a number of “bugs, errors and defects” had meant there was a “materials threat” that Horizon was accountable for the defective knowledge used within the Publish Workplace prosecutions.

Two years later the Courtroom of Attraction mentioned, because it overturned 39 convictions, that every case that relied on Horizon knowledge was an “affront to justice” and people mustn’t have been prosecuted. It rejected three different appeals.

The general public inquiry into the affair has heard of the toll that the Publish Workplace inflicted on harmless sub-postmasters, together with bullying throughout investigations and utilizing aggressive authorized techniques to stress them into pleading responsible to keep away from jail.

To date 96 convictions in complete have been overturned. Sunak’s resolution to depart from the traditional appeals course of has prompted unease among the many judiciary and senior attorneys over issues in regards to the precedent it units for political interference within the courts.

The Woman Chief Justice Sue Carr informed MPs final week that the courts might have dealt with massive numbers of appeals in opposition to Publish Workplace convictions, pushing again on the concept that emergency laws was mandatory.

The Horizon Compensation Advisory Board urged the federal government in December to maneuver ahead with a blanket exoneration.

The board mentioned a “small minority” had been “probably genuinely responsible” however that it might be “price acquitting just a few responsible folks . . . as a way to ship justice”.

The Publish Workplace in its letter insisted “the 700 determine is just not a definitive variety of wrongful convictions”, including that it couldn’t type a view in 118 circumstances forward of an attraction as a result of the proof out there was too restricted.

Following a assessment of convictions by impartial barristers, the Publish Workplace contacted 26 people to inform them it might concede their case on attraction, based on the letter.

Ministers had thought-about stripping the Publish Workplace of its position in appeals to hurry up the method earlier than Sunak introduced the federal government would quash convictions.

Compensation of £600,000 has been supplied to every sub-postmaster whose Horizon conviction is overturned. The federal government has put aside £1bn to compensate sub-postmasters.

In Scotland, 73 sub-postmasters had been convicted in circumstances introduced by the federal government utilizing Horizon knowledge, relatively than by the Publish Workplace, due to variations within the authorized system.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC defended the position of the courts and informed the Scottish parliament this month that “not each case involving Horizon proof can be a miscarriage of justice”.

The Publish Workplace mentioned: “The protection of convictions is decided by the courts and the related route of attraction. The Prison Instances Evaluate Fee have a number of instances contacted individuals who could also be affected, alongside offering different assist and help.”

A authorities spokesperson mentioned: “We now have been upfront that overturning all convictions will result in some responsible people being acquitted . . . These are actually distinctive circumstances which warrant an distinctive response.”

The CCRC in 2022 and 2023 wrote to 358 convicted sub-postmasters alerting them to the actual fact their convictions may be unsafe, it mentioned in September.

The CCRC is the physique liable for investigating miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Eire.

About 50 responded, 30 of which requested for extra data, and the rest requested to be left alone.

The Horizon Compensation Advisory Board informed the federal government in December that some people’ “deep mistrust of authority” over the scandal had contributed to their unwillingness to attraction.

The CCRC has obtained about 170 Publish Workplace circumstances for assessment, of which 62 convictions have been quashed, one deserted, 5 upheld, and 30 turned down for a referral for attraction, based on a CCRC spokesperson. Others are nonetheless below assessment.

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