A team of former Supreme Court judges should be brought out of retirement to exonerate innocent postmasters within three months, a senior Tory has said.
Sir David Davis, who has been campaigning on behalf of victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, warned that Rishi Sunak’s plan for a mass exoneration by Parliament risked lumping “the genuinely innocent majority in with the potentially guilty minority, undermining the whole process”.
The former cabinet minister urged ministers not to “abandon due process” in “the understandable rush to finally draw this decades-old disgrace to a close”. He said: “A failure to follow proper processes is what has got us into this situation.”
Sir David’s intervention came after the Prime Minister pledged to bring in an emergency law to exonerate postmasters caught up in the scandal after a television drama sparked public outcry.
Downing Street said its ambition was to quash the convictions “this year”, with legislation tabled within weeks.
However, Sir David said: “To exonerate all sub-postmasters in one fell swoop would mean letting off a handful of actual criminals, who would also then end up being compensated by the taxpayer.
“The better solution would be for the courts to consider all the cases where the convictions were based on Horizon evidence in one go. It would be perfectly possible to take three or more former Supreme Court judges out of retirement, give them a courtroom and task them with resolving all these cases in three months.
“Many of the cases where the evidence relied solely on Horizon could be dealt with in blocks of several hundred, since they will entail a straightforward set of decisions. Where the case is more complex, it will require a rather longer investigation, but that is eminently doable.”
Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office minister, has said that the new legislation was justified owing to the “exceptional circumstances” of the case.
He admitted that the blanket exoneration will mean there is a risk that postmasters who were actually guilty of stealing money would also be exonerated and receive compensation.
But he added: “We are being faced with a dilemma: either accept the present problem of many people carrying the unjustified slur of conviction, or accept that an unknown number of people who have genuinely stolen from their Post Office will be exonerated and perhaps even compensated.”