A Miscarriage of Justice

Instead of hosting a party to celebrate her son’s tenth birthday Seema Misra was sent to prison. She was eight weeks pregnant. What was her crime? She had run the village post office in West Byfleet but had unaccountable shortfalls in her accounts. She put in £20,000 from her family savings to resolve the issue, but the problems continued, and eventually, she was convicted of stealing £74,000. The local newspaper described her as the “pregnant thief”. Her life was in shatters.

In what has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, Seema was one of the hundreds falsely accused by the Post Office because of the failed Horizon computer system. The lives of these Subpostmasters were devastated, life savings handed over, livelihoods lost, reputations in tatters, marriages broken, mental health destroyed, there were even suicides. One former churchwarden described having to leave his village and church because of the hostility against him. 

Seema’s name was finally cleared on St Georges Day, along with 38 others. The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (jfsa.org.uk) continues to campaign on behalf of those whose lives were ruined by false accusations. 

To be falsely accused is devastating. Injustice is agonising. Most of us have not had to experience its full horrors, but most know a shadow of its impact. Do you remember the anger of being blamed for the wrongdoing of a sibling? Or being in a class punished because of one pupil? I was once accused on a crowded train of trying to use a ticket twice. I couldn’t prove my innocence. It was humiliating and frustrating but of no lasting consequence. 

Job knew what it was like to be falsely accused. He suffered devastating loss, grief and sickness, but much of his agony was caused by false accusations from his friends. It is not surprising that the New Testament instructs us not to slander one another or harbour evil suspicions and to take great care when making accusations. His so-called friends broke Job’s spirit, and in his exhaustion, he cried out:

 ‘How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Job 19:2

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Job’s friends were sure he was an unrepentant sinner. They had no category for innocent suffering. However, Job’s deepest anguish came from his fear that God might be unjust. 

‘As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter.’Job 27:2

‘Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.’ Job 19:7

Job struggled with God’s apparent silence. He needed God to be just. If God was responsible for a miscarriage of justice, he had no hope. Can you imagine it? Without justice, life is bleak. We need God to judge, and we need him to judge rightly. 

We know the end of the story. God spoke in an extraordinary revelation to Job. Until I studied this in-depth, I used to think God said little more than “I am the creator”. I was wrong. One of the issues God addresses is justice.

‘Would you discredit my justice?’ He said to Job. He threw down the gauntlet and asked Job to try and deal with the wicked himself. Of course, Job couldn’t. By the end of the book, Job’s understanding of his limitations was complete and his confidence that God can do all things deepened. 

As a nation, we pride ourselves on our criminal justice system. The Horizon Post Office scandal reminds us that we fail. We can get things badly wrong. We need to address what we can and seek justice. Believers should undoubtedly take great care when forming judgements. Ultimately we need to take refuge in the one who always judges with righteousness. God is our judge, and that is excellent news.

(FIrst published in Evanglicals Now June 2021)

© 2023 Karen Soole