Post Office

There have been “constructive discussions” about extending a law quashing convictions of sub-postmasters to Northern Ireland, the Deputy First Minister has said.

Emma Little-Pengelly said talks were held with Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Tuesday.

New legislation was introduced on Wednesday but as it stands it only applies in England and Wales.

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long says amendments could still be made.

The legislation is expected to clear the majority of victims in England and Wales by the end of July.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it is “an important step forward in finally clearing” hundreds of sub-postmasters.

Those wrongly convicted will get an option to settle for £600,000, without the need to bring a formal claim.

There will also be “enhanced” financial redress for sub-postmasters who, while not convicted or part of legal action against the Post Office, made good the apparent losses caused by the Horizon system from their own pockets.

They will be entitled to a fixed sum of £75,000 through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, the government said.

Sub-postmasters who have already settled for less money will have their compensation topped up to this level, and people can instead choose to have their claims assessed as part of the usual scheme process, in which there is no limit to compensation.

Ms Little-Pengelly said she and other Stormont ministers had been making “strong representations” on the issue and would continue to press for Northern Ireland’s inclusion.

Although campaigners won the right to have their cases reconsidered, as of January 2024, only 95 convictions had been overturned.

In January, the government announced it would seek to reverse all convictions resulting from the scandal but it was not clear if it would apply in Northern Ireland, which at that stage remained without a devolved government.

Power-sharing was restored at Stormont in early February.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she believed there would be a chance to amend the legislation as it goes through the Commons.

“I don’t think all is lost – there is still an opportunity at another stage for us to do this,” she said.

“If the government don’t do it then I would hope some of our MPs will step up and do that by amendments and I hope the government will accept those.”

She said it would not be quicker for Stormont to pass emergency legislation.

“It’s a relatively small number of cases – somewhere between 20 and 25, which is why producing primary legislation in the chamber and going through all of that process is a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Michael Madden, a solicitor who represents about 30 people from Northern Ireland who were caught up in the Horizon scandal, said his clients want “their reputations restored”.

“And then clearly they are entitled to have the compensation which would hopefully benefit their lives after a long time of suffering.

“It’s quite difficult whenever hope has been raised for people that this legislation is going to come in, and then there’s more hurdles put in place,” he said.

The solicitor also said it “adds to the anxiety being felt by people in this situation”.

BBC News