The Post Office minister has vowed to leave ‘no stone unturned’ to get speedy justice for hundreds of postmasters wrongly convicted during the Horizon scandal.
Kevin Hollinrake told MPs the Government was urgently pursuing options to fast track a process which has so far seen just 93 of more than 700 postmasters able to clear their names in the courts.
Whitehall sources said this could involve a change in the law to allow the huge backlog of cases to be considered ‘en masse’ rather than individually. Discussions were taking place with ‘senior figures in the judiciary’.
In the Commons, Mr Hollinrake said the change could ‘unlock’ compensation claims for hundreds of former postmasters who had their lives wrecked by false claims that they stole money from the Post Office.
He praised the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office for bringing the scandal to a ‘much broader audience’ and for highlighting the ‘brutal approach’ taken by the Post Office.
He said the series, which has triggered an outpouring of public anger, had ‘only reinforced our zeal for seeing justice done as quickly as possible’.
Mr Hollinrake said achieving justice for those wronged was now his ‘highest priority’ and hinted that new measures to overturn convictions could be introduced within days.
‘I’m sorry I can’t be a little more precise in my timescales but I’d be very disappointed if we went past the end of this week in terms of giving more information to the House,’ he said, before adding: ‘The time for quibbling is over.’
Such laws to quash the remaining convictions ‘could be done tomorrow’, two former lord chancellors said last night.
In a letter to The Times, Sir Robert Buckland wrote: ‘We should recognise these exceptional circumstances by asking Parliament to pass legislation … Such legislation would help to right a clear wrong.
‘Too many subpostmasters have already died without seeing justice being done, so there is no more time to be lost.’
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, justice secretary under Tony Blair, said: ‘The Government could introduce that [legislation] tomorrow and there would be no resistance in Parliament.’
Postmasters whose convictions are overturned are entitled to interim compensation worth £163,000. They can then opt to accept an offer of £600,000 or seek to have their individual case examined.
Mr Hollinrake said: ‘When we talk about compensation, we have to remember that the lives of postmasters and their families caught up in this scandal have been irrevocably changed.
‘They have faced financial ruin, untold personal distress, and a loss of reputation that no amount of financial compensation nor promises of lessons learned can fully restore.
‘The Government recognises, however, that we have a clear moral duty to right these wrongs to the best of our ability.’ In total some £148million has been paid out but the final bill is expected to be many times higher.