Thank you to everyone who got in touch about the Post Office Horizon scandal.
I have received a large number of emails from constituents about this issue in recent weeks, demonstrating the strength of feeling in Islington South and Finsbury that swift justice must be done for all those wrongly convicted. I want to start by paying tribute to those who have campaigned on this issue for more than twenty years, particularly Alan Bates, but also many others who deserve to have their dogged perseverance and determination recognised.
Like many, I was extremely moved watching Mr Bates vs the Post Office on ITV, and I have also been closely following the real-life testimonies of victims in front of parliamentary committees and on the news as they have recounted the appalling injustice that has befallen them. I absolutely agree that we simply can’t allow hundreds of people to remain stuck in limbo for any longer than is absolutely necessary before they receive exoneration and compensation.
The government has announced that they will introduce legislation to overturn the convictions of all those convicted in England and Wales on the basis of Post Office evidence given during the Horizon scandal. I’m keen to see swift action to resolve this issue, so I will study closely the proposals they put forward to ensure I am happy with what’s being proposed.
But what I can say now is that I am glad former Post Office Chief Executive Paula Vennells has reflected on her role in the scandal and has handed back her CBE. And I also want to see the strongest possible action taken to ensure all those at the Post Office and at Fujitsu are held to account for this terrible injustice.
As Labour’s shadow Attorney General, I am particularly focused on looking at ways of strengthening our legal processes to ensure a miscarriage of justice like this cannot happen again, which is why I think we need to review the regulation of private prosecutions so that they cannot be abused again in this manner. This kind of reform needs to be properly considered, and it is something I will be looking at carefully in the coming months. But my starting point is that the law needs to change so that no organisation that does not meet the standards that would be applied to a public prosecutor has the power to prosecute its own staff, as the Post Office did in this case.
And lastly, I think this scandal has highlighted a much broader issue that we will find ourselves reflecting on again and again in the coming years, as the march of digitisation and AI continues apace. I reject the suggestion that some have put forward in recent years that we should abandon technological progress and retreat back into the cosy nostalgia of a bygone era. But we cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk into a situation, so perfectly encapsulated by this scandal, whereby technology is seen as infallible while workers – human beings – are treated as inherently dishonest and untrustworthy.
That change will require a huge amount of soul searching across the public realm and in the private sector, but if we are to ensure we can harness the power of technology to build a fair, prosperous society, instead of one where ordinary people are ignored or crushed by corporate malfeasance, then it is absolutely a conversation we need to have with some urgency.