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Antony Lane

Solicitor, Stokoe Partnership Solicitors

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Posthumously quashed convictions will also do little to salvage the reputation of those who died while their name remained under a dark cloud

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill will do little to salvage damaged reputations

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill will do little to salvage damaged reputations


Antony Lane provide his thoughts on the groundbreaking piece of legislation aimed at exonerating those wrongly convicted as part of the Horizon scandal

Following the release of the ITV drama series Mr Bates vs The Post Office earlier this year, renewed attention has been given to the convictions of over 700 people, who were convicted following prosecutions brought by the Post Office and the Crown Prosecution Service over a period of almost 20 years.

These convictions were founded on the accuracy of the accountancy program ‘Horizon’, and prosecutions were reinforced by the blanket denial that this system was faulty or that it could be accessed and amended remotely. However, in 2019, the High Court found otherwise.

Yet, to date, less than 100 of the convictions based on the reliability of Horizon have been quashed.

The aim of the Bill

In January 2024, the Prime Minster announced legislation to ensure those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are “swiftly exonerated and compensated” and, two months later, the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill was presented to parliament.

On coming into force, the Act will immediately quash convictions and remove police cautions for those investigated or prosecuted by the Post Office for relevant offences should certain conditions be met.

This is, however, an unprecedented constitutional shift for the legislature to bring in an act of parliament which directly overturns convictions in the criminal courts.

Critics, rightly, have raised concerns that this may creep towards setting precedents for future political interference in the justice system and, given that acts of parliament only require a simple majority, there are questions as to what this sort of legislation may be used for in the future.

This legislation is perhaps a concession that the Post Office doggedly pursued criminal convictions, using extensive resources at their disposal, while disregarding their legal and ethical obligations to comply with the law and rules of disclosure. This Act will, therefore, set the record straight for hundreds who were convicted and who might not otherwise be able to clear their name.

With their convictions overturned and access to compensation of a minimum of £600,000, this Act will go some way to help convicted subpostmasters rebuild their lives after years of injustice.

There are, however, notable limitations to the Bill.

The limitations

Firstly, and most notably, the legislation will only apply to England and Wales. Therefore, there will be a disparity between how quickly individuals can obtain justice throughout the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland needing to develop their own legislation under their devolved powers to address this disparity.

The Bill itself also makes no provision for compensation, which is to be established separately and will likely require separate and distinct secondary legislation, inevitably leading to further delay for those who have already waited many years for financial redress.

The Act will also not apply to those who have already had their appeal against conviction determined by the Court of Appeal – another significant shortcoming given that the time limit for lodging an appeal against conviction is 28 days from the date of conviction.

The Court of Appeal are slow to allow appeals out of time and so practitioners routinely advise to lodge appeals ‘in time’ to ensure they are not dismissed solely for this reason.

To exclude appeals, especially those determined prior to the 2019 High Court ruling and more recent developments, also risks excluding from this legislation those who were advised to lodge their appeals in time but were not able show their convictions were unsafe to the satisfaction of the court.

As the process for quashing convictions requires the Secretary of State to notify convicting courts, who will amend the record of conviction, this will be a paper-based exercise and there will not be the same public scrutiny in the convictions being quashed than there may have been when the subpostmasters were being prosecuted at first instance.

Posthumously quashed convictions will also do little to salvage the reputation of those who died while their name remained under a dark cloud.


While the quashing of these convictions will pave the way for many to finally receive justice, it will ultimately serve as a footnote for those who have had to endure the disgrace of having their character brought into question for many years. This Bill is a one-size fits all solution and pays no regard to the individual circumstances of each case.

There is no doubt this is a groundbreaking piece of legislation. However, having only been given its second reading in the Commons and with no date set for the committee stage, there remains questions over whether it will make it onto the statue book in its current form when the public spotlight moves on.