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Post Office Scandal Victims' Convictions to be Quashed, But New Law Doesn't Cover Everyone

Sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were falsely accused based on information from the Horizon computer system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu. Protestors raised awareness for the victims here in 2022. Credit - Kirsty O'Connor—Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday addressed the nation about the landmark Post Office (Horizon System) Offenses Bill, which sets out to overturn convictions in the Post Office scandal. The years-long saga saw hundreds of employees wrongfully accused and convicted of fraud because of faulty software in what the Prime Minister called “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history.”

Sunak announced the formal, and long-awaited, introduction of the law in a video message posted on X (formerly Twitter) and with an accompanying press release. The BBC reported the new law is expected to come into effect by the end of July. The tentative timeline is subject to a parliamentary process.

“Lives were destroyed, reputations ruined, and innocent people left fighting for justice. It’s an appalling scandal,” Sunak said in the video message. “I want people’s names cleared and I want victims to get the redress they so desperately deserve.”

In the scandal that continues to stun the nation, employees were accused and convicted of fraud because of the Post Office’s own faulty software, Horizon IT. The saga regained attention after a TV series Mr Bates vs the Post Office aired in the U.K. at the start of the year, galvanizing support for the cause and calls for justice. As of January, the Metropolitan Police were investigating potential offenses of perjury and perverting the course of justice related to prosecutions and investigations carried out by the Post Office.

The new law will apply to sub-postmasters who ran local Post Office franchises using the software, their employees or family members who were prosecuted for theft, fraud, false accounting or relevant offenses connected to the Post Office between 1996 and 2018.

Sunak said the law will ensure those who are eligible are “automatically exonerated” and made the Department for Business and Trade responsible to deliver a new Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme to provide “swift financial redress once those convictions have been quashed.”

The government is also expanding a £75,000 ($95,924) payment to victims who were impacted, but not convicted.

“This has been one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history, and I’ve been appalled by everything the victims have had to endure—ordinary, hardworking people who wanted nothing more than to serve their community,” Sunak said. “We must right the wrongs as quickly as possible and ensure that nothing like this is ever allowed to happen again.”

The law will only absolve victims in England and Wales. The government said in its press release it “will continue to work closely with their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland as they develop their own plans.”

Scotland’s Justice Secretary Angela Constance criticized the decision to not include victims in Scotland and Northern Ireland in a statement emailed to TIME.

“We, along with the Northern Ireland Executive, urged the U.K. Government to introduce U.K.-wide legislation as the best way to ensure there is a quick, fair, and equal solution for all affected sub-postmasters, particularly as the Post Office is reserved to Westminster, so this announcement is extremely disappointing,” Constance said. “It is not too late for the U.K. Government to change their position, but if this continues to be refused, we will introduce Scottish legislation that delivers justice for all those affected.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scotland's public prosecution body, said: “As an independent and impartial prosecution service, COPFS is determined to ensure that all miscarriages of justice resulting from unreliable Horizon evidence are overturned."

They continued: "COPFS has identified 53 cases which may meet the legal test for a miscarriage of justice. This does not determine the number of Scottish convictions which may fall in to the categories as set out in the U.K. legislation.”

A Northern Ireland Department of Justice spokesperson said in an emailed statement to TIME: Justice Minister Naomi Long “is deeply disappointed that despite the representations she has made jointly with the First Minister and deputy First Minister, Northern Ireland has not been included within the scope of the Bill as introduced and has called for the Bill to be amended during its passage through Parliament to allow affected individuals in this jurisdiction to be treated on the same basis as their counterparts in England and Wales.”

In response to a request for comment from TIME, the Department for Business and Trade shared a statement Minister for Postal Affairs Kevin Hollinrake delivered to the House of Commons. "We are fully committed to work with the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive through regular weekly official-level engagement to progress their own approaches," he said. "I have met with my counterparts in the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to offer support and address their concerns and have offered further meetings. The financial redress scheme of course will be open to applicants throughout the UK once convictions have been overturned.”

A Parliament committee report on March 7 had urged the government to immediately remove the Post Office from providing redress for victims. The Post Office said in a press release in response it would have no objection to relinquishing its role: “While £179 million ($229 million) has been delivered in redress to victims of this scandal, and settlements reached with 2,700 postmasters, more needs to be done.”

Victims of the scandal have been campaigning for years for recourse and have accused the government of being too slow to compensate and clear their names.

At the BRITs 2024, the U.K.’s premier music awards, on March 3, a former sub-post office operator Jo Hamilton presented an award alongside the actor who portrayed her in the recent TV drama. Hamilton called on the authorities to take more action.

"I want to thank everyone in the country for the love and support they have given the postmasters,” she said. “Please can you keep on supporting us because, despite what the government says, they’re not paying the postmasters.”

Contact us at letters@time.com.