MSPs could be recalled in summer to finalise pardon for Scots victims of Horizon IT scandal

MSPs could be recalled to Holyrood during the summer break to vote through legislation to pardon Scots sub-postmasters wrongly convicted in the Horizon IT scandal.

Angela Constance, the Justice Secretary, warned today the Bill needed to be in place as soon as possible after UK legislation is passed.

Westminster is already proceeding with a separate plan which will offer a blanket pardon to all sub-postmasters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But Tory ministers refused to include Scotland as prosecutions north of the Border were handled by the Crown Office and not the Post Office.

That move has led to SNP ministers to bring emergency legislation at Holyrood - with Stage One of the Bill being debated today and Stage Two being heard on Thursday.

But Constance said the pardon would only clear its third hurdle after any final changes to the UK legislation were known.

The scandal saw sub-postmasters being accused of crimes such as theft, false accounting or embezzlement on the basis of a faulty IT system called Horizon.

Figures from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service show that about 60 convictions in Scotland involved involved Horizon evidence.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which investigates possible miscarriages of justice, wrote to potential victims in 2020.

Only 19 people have so far come forward asking for their convictions to be quashed.

Six of those people have been cleared and two cases are currently going through the courts.

Constance told MSPs: "I recognise the gravity of taking this unusual step of quashing convictions by way of legislation. However, the unprecedented scale of the miscarriages of justice caused by the horizon IT system mean the steps proposed by this Bill are necessary.

"The aim of this Bill is to provide a quick, fair and equal solution for all sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted.

"We want to ensure Scottish sub-postmasters are not disadvantaged and can access the UK Government compensation scheme."

She added: "I know the nature of this Bill is unprecedented and as parliamentarians we are making decisions we have never had to before.

"I hope member will agree this Bill is the only way now to overturn the horrendous miscarriages of justice suffered by postmasters in Scotland."

But opposition parties said the Crown Office still had questions to answer over its role in the scandal.

Labour MSP Pauline McNeil asked: "The dogs in the street knew there was a sniff around Horizon. So why was that not enough to halt cases?"

The Lord Advocate previously confirmed there were four convictions in Scotland involving evidence from the faulty IT system after a 2013 meeting between Crown Office officials and Post Office lawyers.

It emerged earlier this year that the Crown Office became aware of potential problems with the Horizon IT system in 2013 - but it did not formally stop prosecuting cases until 2015.

Russell Findlay, Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman, said: "We know who some of the villains are, we know who some of the victims are, and we know some of the heroes.

"What we do not yet know is what exactly happened here in Scotland, where the Crown Office had sole responsibility for prosecuting every single Horizon case."

"Why did the Crown Office continue to put Scottish sub-postmasters in the dock after it was widely known that Horizon evidence was not reliable?"

To sign up to the Daily Record Politics newsletter, click here