Letter: Horizon scandal worse in Scotland

Letter: Horizon scandal worse in Scotland

Dear Editor,

We are, sadly, all too familiar with hearing or reading about the “Post Office Horizon Scandal”. The position in Scotland is even worse than in England.

Some time ago, the First Minister said that legislation would be introduced in Scotland to quash the convictions of those sub-Post Office masters who have been wrongly convicted. That does not seem to have happened. That is a scandal, unless, of course, he is acutely aware of the doctrine of separation of powers which would indicate that Parliament is not the appropriate vehicle for overturning judicial decisions.

Yesterday in SLN, it was said that the Justice Secretary, Angela Constance, was advocating UK-wide legislation to do just that. She seems to be unaware that Scots criminal law and procedure are devolved matters. Failure to grasp this point is a scandal.

The stance taken by the Crown Office is a scandal. It can easily identify those who have been wrongly convicted, i.e. the conviction relied solely or significantly on the now-discredited Horizon system. It is within the Crown Office’s powers to sort out this mess but, instead, it insists that those who were wrongly convicted will need to apply to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

What of those who have shuffled off this mortal coil? What of those who are no longer able to make such an application? What of those who just want to put the matter behind them? What of those who have lost faith in the criminal justice system in Scotland?

What is the Commission going to do? Review every case, ignoring the fact that the Crown Office knows the identities of all who have been wrongly convicted? How long is this process going to take? The longer it takes, the longer will be the time during which no compensation will be paid.

Those at the head of the Post Office will, we assume, be all in favour of delay, and especially those who denied that there was anything working with their computer system and those who told some sub-Post Office masters that that no others were in a similar position.

The simple solution, as I and others have suggested, is for the Crown Office to apply to the High Court to have the wrongful convictions overturned. “The convictions in the following cases resulted from reliance on a computer-based system which has been discredited. In our submission, these convictions are unsafe and we invite the Court to quash them.”

“End of,” as they say. If the Crown Office hopes this will go away, it needs to re-think the strategy.

The longer the First Minster delays in whatever course of action he has in mind, the worse the position is for those wrongly convicted. The longer the Justice Secretary insists on the UK Parliament doing what it ought not to do and, in all probability, will not do, the worse the position is for the wrongly convicted, and the more the Crown Office insists that the proper avenue is the Review Commission, the worse the position is for those wrongly convicted.

It is arguable that one can forgive the First Minister and the Justice Secretary for their ignorance about the proper way to proceed. No such indulgence should be shown to the Crown Office. To continue the garden analogy, it does not come of out this smelling of roses, but perhaps smelling of a substance which may assist in their cultivation.

Douglas J. Cusine

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