A BILL introducing emergency legislation to exonerate subpostmasters wrongly convicted in the Horizon IT scandal has passed its first stage in Holyrood.

MSPs unanimously backed the general principles of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill on Tuesday, with politicians across the chamber arguing it was the “greatest miscarriage of justice” in the legal system.

Subpostmasters in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, were convicted of crimes including theft, false accounting and embezzlement because of the faulty IT system used by the Post Office.

If passed, the bill will result in those wrongly convicted being exonerated and given access to the UK Government’s financial redress scheme.

The Scottish Government brought the proposals forward as emergency legislation after the UK Government refused to extend its bill to cover Scotland.

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Justice Secretary Angela Constance (below) has said it is the Government’s intention to have the legislation in place as soon as possible after the UK bill passed.

The National: Angela Constance

And she told Holyrood’s Justice Committee she may ask parliament to be recalled in the summer to pass the legislation quickly.

Speaking as the bill passed its first stage before moving onto the second on Thursday, Constance said she would also be lodging an amendment to remove the exclusion of appeals heard by the High Court.

“These allegations had a ruinous impact on innocent subpostmasters and their families,” she said.

“Some were made bankrupt, some lost their homes, some were branded thieves by their communities, and some took their own lives.”

She added: “I recognise the gravity of taking this unusual step of quashing convictions by way of legislation; however, the unprecedented scale of the miscarriages of justice caused by the Horizon IT system means that the steps proposed by this Bill are necessary.”

She said it is hoped the legislation would provide a “quick, fair and equal” solution for all subpostmasters.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay told the chamber the scandal was “perhaps the greatest miscarriage of justice in the country’s legal history”.

He said the “scale and audacity” of the cover-up from the Post Office was “breathtaking and reprehensible”.

He also asked for an explanation as to why the Crown Office “continued to put Scottish subpostmasters in the dock after it was widely known that Horizon evidence was not reliable”.

Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “The cover-ups, the lies told and the dysfunctional nature of the Post Office internal investigation and prosecution functions led to the ruining of many lives, not just subpostmasters’, but their families’ too. Suicide, financial ruin and families who left the country due to the talk of the scandal in small villages.

“It must never be allowed to happen again.”