Contrary to public perception, miscarriages of justice are not rare events. An estimated £65m a year is spent on imprisoning people who have been wrongly convicted. Around 25 people a day successfully appeal against their convictions.
But innocent people often find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to have their cases referred back to the appeal courts. Individuals and their families are destroyed by miscarriages of justice and the perpetrators remain at large. Justice is not done.
The Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) was established following the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four cases – notorious miscarriages of justice. Despite the creation of the CCRC and its Scottish equivalent, the problem of wrongful conviction and imprisonment of factually innocent people remains a feature of our criminal justice system.
Evidence of innocence available at the time of an original trial, but not used by a defence team, does not constitute grounds for appeal. So people who are alleging innocence can be barred from overturning their convictions because of mistakes made by their defence lawyers.
The Innocence Network (INUK) provides a unique way of addressing this problem.
Established by Dr Michael Naughton from the School of Law at the University of Bristol, INUK is a natural extension of his on-going research into wrongful convictions and what can be done to overturn and prevent them.
INUK is dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, improving the criminal justice system and preventing future miscarriages of justice. INUK acts as an umbrella organisation for Innocence Projects in 26 UK universities, with around 500 staff and students working collectively on approximately 80 cases of prisoners maintaining innocence which meet the INUK casework criteria. INUK is not a campaign or victim support group.
INUK works in collaboration with a range of professions and third sector groups including criminal appeal lawyers, forensic scientists, investigative journalists, and victim support organisations in the voluntary sector.
In each Innocent Project, undergraduate and postgraduate law students work under academic supervision and guidance, where appropriate, from pro bono criminal lawyers, forensic scientists and others. The Innocent Projects also educate students about the wrongful conviction of the innocent and the deficiencies of the criminal justice system.
Based at University of Bristol with Dr Naughton as Director, INUK acts as a hub for the network, providing cases to member Innocence Projects from its central casebank. The protocols to which all the Innocence Projects work have been devised at Bristol in collaboration with other Network colleagues.
The formation of INUK
INUK was officially launched at a press conference on the eve of an innovative conference held at the University of Bristol in September 2004. The conference explored the feasibility of establishing a national network of Innocence Projects in UK universities, similar to those in the United States.
Victims of wrongful imprisonment such as Paddy Hill (Birmingham 6) and Mike O’Brien (Cardiff Newsagent Three) pledged their support for INUK.
The late Sir Ludovic Kennedy, INUK’s first Patron, a campaigner against wrongful convictions for almost half a century, gave a rousing speech on the necessity of a united movement to bring about meaningful and lasting reform of the criminal justice system.
Support for INUK comes from all parts of the wrongful conviction community - academics, criminal appeal lawyers, victim support groups, campaigning organisations, forensic scientists and investigative journalists.
In particular, INUK has the support and patronage of major UK legal and social justice figures, including Michael Mansfield QC, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Professor Michael Zander QC and Bruce Kent.
The CCRC welcomed the creation of INUK, conceding that they were often helpless to assist victims of wrongful conviction if they did not fulfil the criteria laid down under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.
University of Bristol– a central role
In January 2005, Dr Michael Naughton also established the University of Bristol Innocence Project, the first dedicated Innocence Project in the UK.
Innocence Projects involve students, supervised by staff and pro bono criminal lawyers, working on cases of alleged victims of miscarriage of justice. Typically, a student will work up to eight hours a week on casework, background reading, research, prison and court visits, witness interviews and writing briefings - trying to determine whether a person’s claim of innocence is valid or not.
Seven undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Bristol Innocence Project received a ‘Highly Commended’ award in the category 'Best Contribution by a Team of Students’ in the Attorney General’s Student and Law School Pro Bono Awards 2008.
Members of the Bristol Innocence Project have also worked with BBC TV to produce a ‘Rough Justice’ documentary, aired on 12 April 2007.
INUK has three core functions:
Undertaking full investigations into alleged cases of wrongful conviction that meet its eligibility criteria.
Informing research into:
- the causes of wrongful conviction
- the barriers to attempts to overturn these convictions
- the harmful consequences of wrongful conviction on victims, their families, friends and society as a whole
Informing public debate about wrongful conviction and imprisonment through the INUK website - innocencenetwork.org.uk – and through public conferences and meetings with Government and the CCRC. INUK also produces books, pamphlets and articles, all for public consumption.
INUK offers free assistance to alleged innocent victims of wrongful conviction who meet all of the following criteria:
- A declaration of factual innocence, as opposed to claims of a procedural miscarriage of justice
- Have exhausted the normal appeals process
- Have no legal representation, or whose solicitors have granted permission for INUK to help
Alleged victims of wrongful conviction hear about INUK by word of mouth and through the press. They write to INUK with requests for assistance in proving their innocence and overturning their convictions. Preliminary research is undertaken from the information provided in the initial questionnaire, as well as key trial and appeal documents. Cases deemed eligible are allocated to member Innocence Projects for full investigation, with priority given to prisoners serving life sentences, or with long-term prison sentences remaining.
The casework protocols developed at Bristol and used by all Innocence Projects are compliant with the Clinical Legal Education Organisation, and have been adapted from the model standards for live-client work that govern associates of the Clinical Legal Education Organisation and are in line with the Attorney General's Pro Bono Protocols.
INUK has a stringent assessment process, and from its first 800 applications, has only deemed around 150 cases to be eligible for investigation by a member Innocence Project. People deemed ineligible were informed of their legal culpability.
The assessment process takes into account that not all prisoners maintaining innocence are innocent. At the same time, it recognises the causes of wrongful convictions and acknowledges that some prisoners maintaining innocence may actually be innocent. Dr Naughton explained: “This has generated a great deal of credibility with the Parole Board, the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice. The National Offender Management Service which oversees prisons and probation, has now adopted our methodology, and use our typology of claims of innocence to separate those who are not innocent from those who may be.”
Results and the future
The first UK case involving INUK has recently been referred to the Court of Appeal – a major achievement.
The case concerns Simon Hall, convicted in 2003 for the murder of 79 year old Joan Albert in a claimed disturbed robbery. He was convicted solely on fibres found at the crime scene, at his addresses and in some of his clothes. The University of Bristol Innocence Project conducted research that fundamentally undermined the reliability of murder convictions based on such evidence. New technology has also disproved the claim that the fibres are a match. The University of Bristol Innocence Project also found other crucial evidence which points to Simon Hall’s innocence. It had been buried in a mass of unused material, and not discovered by his trial or appeal lawyers, or by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
INUK is expanding all the time, and has a multidisciplinary approach with Innocence Projects in law schools, an English department, schools of journalism and a forensic psychology department.
INUK’s core funding derives from conferences, training events and membership fees from its Innocence Projects. Awards have also been obtained for building skills to help with ensuring sustainability.