Thirty-nine former subpostmasters caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal will have their convictions of fraud, theft and false accounting referred for appeal, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has announced.

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The CCRC said the 39 applicants were “by some distance the largest number of cases we will ever have referred for appeal at one time”.

The Commission will be referring all those cases, which involve convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting, on the basis of the argument that each prosecution amounted to an abuse of process.

The argument arises out of two civil court judgments – the common issues judgment of the 15 March 2019, “and particularly” the Horizon issues judgment handed down on the 16 December 2019.

The 39 cases to be referred are among a total of 61 applications to the CCRC from Post Office applicants.

In relation to the remaining 22 cases, the CCRC said it had further work to do before it would be in a position to announce decisions on whether or not it can refer those cases.

Chairman of the CCRC Helen Pitcher said: “This is by some distance the largest number of cases we will ever have referred for appeal at one time. Our team has got through a huge amount of work, particularly since the judgment in December, in order to identify the grounds on which we are referring these cases.

“The Covid-19 situation threatened to delay things but we used an IT solution to resolve that and we will continue to do whatever we need to in order to make decisions in the remaining cases as quickly as we reasonably can.”

A Post Office spokesman said: “The Post Office has been assisting the Criminal Cases Review Commission since applications were first made to them by a number of former postmasters. We have always accepted our serious obligations and responsibilities to the Commission’s work.

“We have not yet received statements of reasons from the Commission about the referrals they are making to the Court of Appeal. We will be looking carefully at the Commission’s decision when we have that information and continue to fulfil all their requirements of us.

“We have also been doing all we can to ensure that, in the light of the findings in the Horizon judgment, further disclosure is provided as appropriate in other cases where Post Office acted as prosecutor, not just those reviewed by the CCRC. The CCRC’s reasoning will inform our review of these cases, which is being carried out by an external team of criminal lawyers.

“We won’t be commenting on individual cases, because it would be inappropriate to prejudge the outcome of the important work that the CCRC is continuing to do or the Court of Appeal’s processes.”