“It is the accountability that matters” – Carmichael speaks on Scottish implications of Post Office Horizon exoneration bill

21 Mar 2024

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken on the need for full accountability in the passage of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, which will overturn convictions of postmasters prosecuted during the Horizon scandal. Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday evening, Mr Carmichael discussed the benefit of a simultaneous process in passing legislation in the Scottish Parliament, to ensure accountability for those responsible for prosecution decisions in Scotland. Mr Carmichael also noted the comments of the Lord Advocate in Scotland who has suggested that “not every case involving Horizon evidence will be a miscarriage of justice”.

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:

“The question of quashing convictions is just one element of justice. The other important element is that those who were responsible for initiating the prosecutions must be accountable. That accountability would be missing if the provisions for Scotland were put in this Bill or the Criminal Justice Bill. That accountability is important for the quality of justice, if it is achievable within the timescale.

“Because the Post Office function is reserved legislatively to the United Kingdom Parliament, as a United Kingdom operation, the compensation should be paid on a UK-wide basis. However, the decisions to prosecute were taken in Scotland, by law officers accountable to the Scottish Parliament. For that reason, it makes sense for the Scottish Parliament to deal with the consequences of those prosecutions.

“If the Scottish Government, instead of trying to evade political accountability, would take their responsibilities seriously and get on with it, they would get on with the drafting of the necessary legislation. If they want to wait and see how it all works here then of course they can do so. Why are the Scottish Government so resistant to getting on and doing what they are constitutionally charged to do, when they could do it if they started now, in a timescale that brings everybody to the same place?

“It is the accountability that matters. The current Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, has already said, on the record, that “not every case involving Horizon evidence will be a miscarriage of justice and each case must be considered carefully and with regard to the law. It is also important to recognise the important…constitutional role of our Appeal Court in Scotland and that due process must be followed.”

“That is a qualitatively different approach from the one that is at the heart of the Bill. The Lord Advocate may be right, but that is where she has to explain herself; and she also has to explain the decisions that were taken by her predecessors. If we have learned nothing else throughout this whole sorry episode of the Horizon system and Post Office Ltd, surely we have learned that, at the end of the day, accountability makes a difference.”

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