Humza Yousaf ‘too lazy’ to introduce legislation to exonerate Horizon victims, says Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch, the UK Business Secretary
Kemi Badenoch, the UK Business Secretary, said the SNP-Green government had the powers to clear Scottish sub-postmasters wrongly convicted during the scandal - YUI MOK/PA

Kemi Badenoch has accused Humza Yousaf’s government of being “too lazy to do the work” after the UK Government rejected his plea for Scotland to piggyback on its legislation exonerating the Horizon scandal victims.

The Business Secretary said the SNP-Green government had the powers to clear the sub-postmasters wrongly convicted north of the Border and noted that Scotland has a separate legal system.

Responding to Mr Yousaf on X, formerly Twitter, she urged him to “stop whining and get on with it!” Her outspoken intervention came after he attacked the Prime Minister’s “outrageous” decision not to include Scotland in legislation covering the rest of the UK.

It covers Wales as justice is not a policy area devolved to the Cardiff parliament, and it was extended to Northern Ireland this week amid concerns that the recently restored administration at Stormont faced “significant and unique challenges.”

But Kevin Hollinrake, the UK enterprise minister, said that Scotland’s separate legal system and the SNP government’s responsibility for it meant it was appropriate for Holyrood to legislate.

Humza Yousaf at a farm
Humza Yousaf attacked Rishi Sunak's 'outrageous' decision not to include Scotland in legislation that clears sub-postmasters - JANE BARLOW/PA

Unlike south of the Border, where the Post Office has the power to bring its own prosecutions, the Crown Office brought all the cases against Scottish postmasters. Control over Scotland’s separate legal system is devolved to Holyrood.

Up to 100 people in Scotland could have been wrongly accused while working as Post Office branch managers. In 2020 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) wrote to 73 potential victims of miscarriages.

Mr Yousaf has pledged that all victims of the scandal in Scotland will have their convictions overturned. He wanted to use a legislative consent motion, a device permitting Westminster to extend to Scotland a law exonerating victims south of the Border.

But the UK Government has been warning for months this would be extremely difficult thanks to the legal complexities, meaning a separate Bill will have to be introduced at Holyrood.

Ms Badenoch tweeted: “The SNP want independence but are too lazy to do the work. They have powers to get justice for the postmasters. They should stop whining and get on with it!”

She also mocked Mr Yousaf for mixing up the Royal Mail with the Post Office in a tweet he posted attacking the UK Government’s decision to exclude Scotland.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, wrote to the First Minister seeking clarity over Scottish Government plans to bring forward legislation to clear the victims of the scandal, which is expected to be tabled before the summer.

He noted that Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain has said she opposed a blanket overturning of convictions, telling MSPs that not all were miscarriages of justice as some did not rely on Horizon evidence.

He said: “Humza Yousaf must urgently clear up the blatant contradictions in his government’s stance on the Horizon scandal.

“He professes to be outraged that UK Government legislation won’t apply in Scotland, yet his Lord Advocate told the Scottish Parliament that she opposed the blanket exonerations which underpin it.

“The First Minister must clarify whether the Lord Advocate has changed her mind or he has overruled her. Either way, Dorothy Bain must come to parliament and explain her position and that of the Scottish Government.”

Ian Murray, Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary, tweeted: “The First Minister’s own Lord Advocate, who sits in his Cabinet, did not want a UK extension of the legislation into Scotland. The Scottish Parliament could pass this in a week but refuse to do so.”

The row intensified as a senior Scottish judge said she was “surprised” documents relating to an appeal against a subpostmaster’s conviction for stealing £35,000 were still being withheld from court.

Ravinder Naga went to the Appeal Court in Edinburgh to challenge a conviction for stealing £35,000 from the Post Office where his mother worked in Greenock, Inverclyde.

At an interim hearing at the Court of Session, Lady Dorrian said it was a “matter for concern” that the Post Office had sought to retain privilege over documents relating to the case, which would prevent them from being used in the appeal.

She ended the hearing by saying: “There’s a very clear suspicion ... that this is more to do with protecting what’s left of the Post Office’s reputation, rather than assisting the court and the appellants.” The judge scheduled a further procedural hearing for June 14.

Angela Constance, the SNP Justice Secretary, insisted the UK Government should legislate to clear postmasters in Scotland to “reflect” its responsibility for the Post Office, despite the prosecutions being conducted by the Crown Office.

She said: “We still hope that the UK Bill will be amended so it covers Scotland. If that does not happen, Scottish legislation will be introduced. This will seek to mirror, as far as possible, the UK legislation so justice and compensation is delivered equally to post-masters, wherever they are in the UK.”