The convictions of two dead workers caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal have been referred to the crown court by the body that reviews suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said it has taken the rare step after completing a “legally challenging and complex” look into the cases of Post Office staff Peter Huxham and Roderick Dundee.
The move may be helpful for the workers’ bereaved relatives because they have no other means of having the convictions overturned, the CCRC said.
Both Huxham and Dundee pleaded guilty to an offence and were convicted at a magistrates’ court.
Previous CCRC posthumous referrals have been made to the Court of Appeal.
This is the first time the CCRC has referred the Post Office convictions of a dead person to the crown court.
CCRC chairwoman Helen Pitcher said the review body acted because it believes there is “a reasonable argument” that the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 enables the court court to hear such an appeal.
In cases where a defendant has pleaded guilty in a magistrates’ court they cannot appeal unless the CCRC refers the case to the crown court.
But there is no statute that expressly lets the crown court hear appeals on behalf of someone who is dead.
Huxham pleaded guilty to fraud by misrepresentation in March 2010 at Torquay Magistrates’ Court and was sentenced to eight months in prison.
He died in 2020. His son applied to have his case reviewed by the CCRC in October 2021.
Dundee pleaded guilty to false accounting at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court in August 2005 and was given a 240-hour community order.
He applied to the CCRC in November 2020 but died in May 2021. His daughter has pursued an application on his behalf since.
Ms Pitcher said: “We know that these two decisions differ from previous posthumous referrals in Post Office Horizon cases in that the convictions of Mr Huxham and Mr Dundee occurred in magistrates’ courts.
“There is no current legislation which expressly allows posthumous appeals from a magistrates’ court to the crown court.
“By contrast, there is legislation providing for posthumous appeals from the crown court to the Court of Appeal.”
The CCRC has now referred 70 cases related to Post Office convictions or sentences to the appellate courts.
It is the most widespread miscarriage of justice the organisation has ever reviewed and there are still thought to be many more unchallenged potentially unjust convictions.
Ms Pitcher said: “Given that we have seen successful posthumous appeals from the crown court to the Court of Appeal in Post Office cases, the disparity is difficult to justify.
“After careful analysis of the law, we believe there is a reasonable argument that the crown court is able to hear an appeal on behalf of a deceased person if the case is referred to it by the CCRC.
“We feel it is important for this issue to be considered by the crown court and for the families of the deceased men to have an opportunity to appeal against the convictions of their loved ones.”
The CCRC has written to hundreds of former sub-postmasters and counter staff whose convictions might have been affected by the Horizon computer system to let them know how they can challenge their convictions.