The UK’s postal services minister says the government is to push ahead with legislation to mass exonerate people wrongly convicted in the Post Office Horizon scandal, despite concerns it will interfere with judicial independence.

It comes after Rishi Sunak announced plans on Wednesday for an act of parliament, which will be introduced within weeks, to overturn hundreds of Post Office convictions.

One lawyer said the legislation risked “riding roughshod” over the judiciary’s independence from the government.

Postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake, speaking to Sky News’ Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, said the government did “not want to interfere with the court and the judicial process”.

However, he said the Post Office scandal was an “exceptional case” and introducing legislation was the right thing to do.

“We have looked at all the alternatives and they would require a very much longer term, much more in-depth process, case by case, exactly what we’re going through now, which has been so slow,” he said.

“So either we choose that option and it goes on for years, or we do this option, and we can resolve this within a few weeks or months.

“And that’s what we want to do. That’s the situation we want to come to.

“These people have been through so much, not just in terms of financial loss, but reputation loss, damage to relationships and health.

“We want to sweep it all aside, so people can get compensated and be exonerated.”

More than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were prosecuted for accounting errors relying on data from the faulty Horizon software.

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‘It’s another sticking plaster’

Once they are exonerated, the government has confirmed victims will be eligible for at least £600,000 compensation, depending on their circumstances.

Terry Wilcox, of Hudgell Solicitors, a firm which represented 74 people who have already had their convictions quashed, welcomed the announcement, but said those impacted were still “very cynical”.

“Obviously we welcome the announcement, but we are very cynical and our clients are very cynical – 20 years of history has led them to be very cynical,” he told Sky News.

“The inquiry has been running for three years and the government has known about this issue for three years yet it’s only now the drama airs, the public have become alarmed and have become aware that the politicians start to act.”

Mr Wilcox criticised the government for not acting until the public outcry following the airing of ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office last week.

Mr Wilcox said the publicity has seen his firm receive 150 enquiries and pick up three new cases of convicted sub-postmasters, one of whom has died.

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He said a blanket quashing of the convictions may not provide his clients with the same degree of vindication as if they were to be investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

He said: “It’s a welcome announcement but obviously the devil is going to be in the detail. What does it mean?

“We have found some of our clients prefer to go through the review precisely because that backs of their view that they are completely innocent.”

Noel Thomas, 77, from Anglesey, a former sub-postmaster who was wrongfully convicted of false accounting in 2006 had his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021.

“We’ve had these assurances before to be honest, and they’ve fallen through,” he told Sky News.

“At the end of the day, it’s this drama that has hit the nail. It’s taken a drama to make people understand what’s been going on.”

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While Mr Wilcox said the announcement would give some people the “strength and courage” to come forward, he raised concerns over the primary legislation which “in theory would be unconstitutional”.

He said the law would need to be extremely well defined and could risk “riding roughshod” over the independence of the judiciary.

“If there’s another pressing case, which is politically sensitive, it might be used for the wrong reasons,” he said.

“That’s the danger – it should just be for postmasters… but once a precedent is set it becomes difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.”

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