Westminster legislation to quash Northern Ireland Post Office convictions

Westminster legislation to quash Northern Ireland Post Office convictions

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UK legislation to automatically quash convictions linked to the Post Office Horizon scandal will be extended to Northern Ireland, the UK government has confirmed.

A total of 26 convictions in Northern Ireland will now be quashed through the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, which is expected to become law by the summer, in addition to those in England and Wales.

The move follows a call from a lawyer representing Northern Ireland victims of the scandal, as well as the Northern Ireland Executive.

The UK’s postal affairs minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “We always carefully consider the territorial extent of each piece of legislation and are rigorous in our commitment to devolution.

“However, it has become apparent that the Northern Ireland Executive does not have the ability to rapidly address the 26 convictions known to be within its purview.

“It has become clear that postmasters in Northern Ireland could have their convictions quashed significantly later than those who were convicted in England and Wales, which would be unacceptable.”

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said: “I am pleased that the Post Office Horizon legislation will be amended to include Northern Ireland. I’ve been speaking to Mr Hollinrake, the Northern Ireland first minister, deputy first minister and justice minister about this important issue regularly.

“It’s clear that, in the context of a recently restored Executive and Assembly, adding Northern Ireland to this bill is the best way to deliver justice for the victims as quickly as possible.”

The decision to extend the bill to Northern Ireland leaves Scotland as the only UK jurisdiction not covered by it, which the UK government said was an appropriate situation given unique features of Scotland’s “historically separate” legal system.

Regardless of the UK jurisdiction in which convictions are quashed, claimants will be entitled to financial redress which will be delivered on a UK-wide basis by the Department for Business and Trade.

Northern Ireland’s first minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The decision to include sub-postmasters here is the fastest and fairest solution for all. This is a prime example of the Executive working together to deliver for people here.

“Those wrongly convicted have already endured years of emotional and financial stress through no fault of their own. They now deserve a swift resolution with their convictions overturned in the quickest and most seamless manner.”

Deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly added: “This is good news for sub-postmasters in Northern Ireland who have been wronged by the Horizon IT scandal. Amending the Westminster legislation is the fastest solution including in terms of accessing financial redress.

“I sincerely hope those affected take some comfort from knowing there will be no additional delays in having their convictions overturned.”

Justice minister Naomi Long said: “It was always my view that sub-postmasters in Northern Ireland should receive equitable treatment in line with their counterparts in other parts of the UK.

“The amendments to the Westminster bill will enable the wrongful convictions to be overturned in the quickest possible way and will finally remove the enormous burden and shame that many sub-postmasters have carried for years.

“These victims had their lives overturned in an instant and whilst it will not erase the pain experienced, I hope it will allow the UK government to deliver financial redress to those affected in the same speedy fashion.”

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