What an insouciant portrait of the Scottish legal establishment was presented to us by the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC, in her statement to the Scottish Parliament about the Horizon affair.

It does not read newspapers and certainly not computer magazines. It does not pay much heed to protests from the accused who probably wouldn’t be in that position if they were innocent. And certainly not enough to prompt joining up dots across our small land.

Neither does it require corroboration so long as the primary evidence comes from a trusted source. And when it transpires that all this has led to a monumental miscarriage of justice, it feels no obligation to get off its well-padded backside in order to right wrongs with even a scintilla of alacrity or, if you’ll pardon the expression, humanity.

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Absolutely not. Events must take their course, dear boy. And if that means a decade, or perhaps two, of glacial progress towards acknowledgment of error, then so be it. For there are processes to follow and backs to cover, so let us not be too hasty.

By which time most of the victims will be dead and those who pursued their conviction will have retired in comfort. It was all most unfortunate of course, but truly exceptional, and anyway it was someone else’s fault so no need to become over-apologetic. Though a nod in the direction of contrition will always catch the headlines and appease the hoi-polloi.

If anyone doubts this to be a fair reflection of Ms Bain’s statement, then I suggest they should read it in full and then ponder the bottom line. Twelve years, by her own account, after the Crown Office was told Horizon was dodgy as hell, only two of the wrongly convicted Scottish postmasters have been fully exonerated through a system which, according to Ms Bain, delivered 54 miscarriages of justice. Others say more.

Is that a record to be proud of? In fairness to Ms Bain, she wasn’t around when most of this happened so it is not on her own behalf she is so defensive. It is the system, the institution and the process. But she is around now and there is minimal indication of zeal to accelerate justice.

Nobody questions that primary responsibility lies with the Post Office or that political accountability was to successive UK governments of various hues. The distinctively Scottish questions arise from the fact we have an independent prosecution service which was responsible for deciding whether or not these cases should be brought to court.

The Herald: The ITV drama Mr Bates versus the Post Office which has reawoken public consciousness of the scandalThe ITV drama Mr Bates versus the Post Office which has reawoken public consciousness of the scandal (Image: ITV)

It is self-evidently true that this system failed, simply because it made the consistently wrong call, leading to miscarriages of justice. Rationalisations of why this happened are secondary to recognition of the fact that it did – which was a central reality that Ms Bain tried to dance around.

According to her potted history, it was “clear that the Post Office failed in its duty of revelation and that, as a result, some individuals were prosecuted when they should not have been. Where miscarriages of justice have happened, it is because prosecutors in Scotland accepted, as they were entitled to, evidence and explanation at face value from the Post Office”.

It is the phrase “as they were entitled to” that I find startling. What is the point of an independent prosecution system, or of corroboration as a cornerstone of Scots law, if prosecutors are “entitled” to proceed without consideration of other evidence? “The Post Office says you dunnit, so you dunnit” does not sound like a safe principle to guide prosecutions.

This is where some recognition of the wider world would have come in handy rather than relying, as Ms Bain did, on the assertion that nobody told them anything before 2013 which would have “impacted on the reliability of evidence submitted by the Post Office”.

Doubts about Horizon were swirling long before 2013. In pursuing its own prosecutions in England, the Post Office would obviously disregard them. But why did nobody within the Scottish prosecution system, at local or national level, combine awareness of these doubts with scepticism about herds of respected local postmasters suddenly becoming fraudsters?

There is a chasm of difference between being “entitled” to accept the Post Office’s word for everything and being “required” to do so. To say the least, it is disappointing that Scotland’s independent system of prosecution failed for so long, and in so many cases, to recognise that distinction.

Ms Bain continued: “When it became clear that those explanations could no longer be relied on, prosecutors changed policies, dropped cases and subsequently supported the work of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, the Court of Appeal in Scotland and the United Kingdom-wide public inquiry”.

The problem with this single sentence is that it covers a period of almost 11 years in which the vast majority of the miscarriages of justice secured within Scotland have remained uncorrected. As the prosecuting authority in the first place, does the Crown Office accept no responsibility for that regrettable omission which they could have got to work on addressing in 2013?

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As Ms Bain made absolutely clear, this is the way it is going to continue. She insisted that not all Horizon cases will be miscarriages of justice and that “each case must be considered carefully and with regard to the law … due process must be followed”.

This pretty much rules out the kind of legislation announced by Rishi Sunak for blanket exonerations in England and Wales. If Ms Bain’s approach had been announced in 2013 or even 2018, I would have agreed with it. In the interests of justice, there is a lot to be said for “due process”.

But that didn’t happen. In 2024, the Scottish victims of this life-destroying outrage will continue to have doubt cast upon their integrity - unless and until there is a massive acceleration in “due process” which will bring matters to a conclusion while some of them are still alive.

Does the Scottish legal establishment have the stomach at least for that?

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party MP and Energy Minister