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Post Office and Horizon Software — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford 1:30 pm, 5th March 2020

The hon. Lady is right to raise that point, because many of these people have been suffering for many years. My constituent was one of the very first victims of this miscarriage of justice, with the event happening to her in 2000, so Members can imagine how she has suffered throughout that period. Indeed, her family have suffered, too.

I will move on to the question of how we get to the review of these convictions. A group litigation order was approved by the president of the Queen’s bench division, so it follows that a group remedy is possible when there are clearly common themes. One such common theme must surely be that convictions were achieved on the basis of the Horizon IT evidence, which Justice Fraser has ruled, as I said earlier, to be not “remotely robust” and prone to errors.

Dialogue with the Criminal Cases Review Commission has been helpful, and I am confident that it realises that the case is exceptional and should be treated as such, and that it will carefully consider all the common themes that would enable a referral to the Court of Appeal to be grouped. I very much hope that the CCRC continues with that mindset. I understand from my discussions with representatives of the Post Office that it would prefer each case to be treated separately. They have said that the Post Office will insist that those who pleaded guilty to false accounting should be excluded from the process. However, it seems to me that that should not be a matter for the Post Office to involve itself in. Should the cases be referred by the CCRC to the Court of Appeal, the Post Office will be a respondent. It would be wholly wrong for the Post Office to be involved in any decisions around the mechanisms for the quashing of the convictions, given that the convictions are of people whom it sought to prosecute.

One of the representatives of the Post Office said to me that he doubts many cases will be referred to the Court of Appeal and that those that do are unlikely to succeed. It seems to me that rather than learning the lessons and moving forward, as the Post Office suggests it has, it is in fact still intent on protecting the interests of the institution at all costs. That is hugely damaging to the Post Office. We love the Post Office. We support the Post Office and we want it to thrive, but to continue with that mindset, which Justice Fraser referred to as “institutional obstinacy”, is not only damaging to the Post Office brand and reputation, but adds insult to injury for those who have suffered as a direct consequence of its failure to see the world as round.

I have huge admiration for the Minister, who I know is a man of enormous integrity with an inquiring mind. He will, I have no doubt, read around the subject in depth, and I wish him well in his new role as Minister for the Post Office. With a new Minister in post, a new Government in office and a fine judgment from Justice Fraser, we have an opportunity to get justice done. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about how Government can help postmasters overturn wrongful convictions in a timely manner. I urge him to work with the excellent Minister for miscarriages of justice, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, to see how Government can help to support the CCRC in these unique circumstances and ensure that the Post Office and its management stay well out of these decisions.