Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the The University of Sheffield's online course, Crime, Justice and Society. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds For many years, I’ve been working - before I came to The University of Sheffield - I’ve been working with families in an organisation called Innocent. It still continues to meet regularly and we still do much the same kind of work in Innocent. And that means meeting a lot of family members who come regularly. When they come to meetings, they are often deeply distressed and they say that, even years after the conviction, they still burst into tears in meetings because that’s a place where they can speak freely, which they can’t normally in the rest of society. They tell us that the effect has been devastating.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds They can never stop thinking about the case, that, as they’ve often put it, they serve the sentence along with the person who’s inside. And whole families are doing that. It’s really frightening the way that it affects families. Unless people come into contact with and really understand, and have a direct relationship to a miscarriage of justice case, people are very reluctant to even think that it happens.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds They don’t I think - there’s one person involved in a miscarriage of justice case, who used to be a police officer himself, said to me, I think that people just don’t want to believe that the police can behave like that, that people can be so easily wrongly convicted because it makes you feel insecure in life. If some terrible thing happened to you, you were arrested mistakenly and charged with an offence, then you might easily be convicted of it. We don’t want to go round spending our daily lives thinking that would happen.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds So really, the more impact we can get - the more this impact of the devastating effect we can get across to people - the more people might really believe and appreciate that miscarriage of justice is a serious problem. When we get a case, that’s when it’s really busy and the students have a lot to do. First of all, all the materials have got to be gathered. So we may have to go off somewhere and collect it, or we may have to get it sent to us in parcels. It’s usually a lot of material because these cases have been through quite a lot of stages. They’ve already been to the appeal court.

Skip to 2 minutes and 13 seconds They’ve probably been to the Criminal Cases Review Commission already once. And all that has generated more paperwork, so it’s boxes and boxes of stuff. We then scan all that, and it’s a lot of work, but we scan it all in so we can deal with it electronically. And then we look, we get very familiar with the case, and decide what leads we think are worth following up. And we will also go and visit our client who’s normally in prison, spend quite a long time with them discussing it in detail. It’s amazing what comes out of these visits, really interesting and worthwhile. We may visit scenes of crime if we think that’s worth doing.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 seconds We may even interview witnesses and then we may attempt to get further disclosure of material from the Crown Prosecution Service. And then when we’ve done all that and written it up as reports and liaised with lawyers, we hopefully put forward a detailed application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission on behalf of our clients. When I started working at the Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre, I thought that a wrongful conviction was just when someone was convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit. But now that I’ve spent more time on the project and taken more time to look into the case documents, you understand the extent and the depth to which wrongful convictions exist in the UK.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds Our criminal justice system is a complex and complicated set up. Having looked at the depth of the cases that we study, the amount of material that we have to cover, it just becomes apparent to you that we’re dealing with something that is almost like an epidemic. We’ve had to be looking through an assortment of case files and court documents, which includes barrister notes and solicitor notes. We take an in-depth look at - the process which I’ve been involved in has certainly been more of an investigatory sort of process where we receive the case from our client, and then over time we’ve tried to uncover the bits that the solicitors and barristers which looked at it first perhaps missed.

Skip to 4 minutes and 26 seconds This then has involved going to the CPS and talking to them about returning case files, and we’re looking to make a CCRC application with the hope that - as our case has not been reviewed yet, perhaps finding something which we can take forward and make an impact on a client who has little other option left but to come to us for help. It’s clear that there are a number of reasons why a miscarriage of justice can occur. In my particular case, we’ve looked at how forensic science can wrongly implicate somebody into a crime, or not necessarily implicate, but just being wrong and therefore be particularly difficult to overturn.

Skip to 5 minutes and 11 seconds And from that we also look at how the police can be involved in extracting a false confession, or a false confession can arise, and then how erroneous eyewitness identification can all compound with each other to create a subsequent wrongful conviction. The only reason that these people come to us is because it’s when the appeals process has been exhausted. So it becomes unfeasible for lawyers, and solicitors, and barristers to take on these cases when they already have a huge workload. And students have a legal education. They have an understanding. They have a passion because that’s why they get involved with it in the first place.

Skip to 5 minutes and 59 seconds So they have an interest, and they have the time, and they have the desire to help people. And they can take on this work and they can supplement the important work of other solicitors and barristers.

The Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre

The student-led Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre provides Sheffield law students with the opportunity to investigate cases of convicted people maintaining their innocence, who have exhausted the initial appeals process.

Student volunteers aim to find fresh evidence to support their clients’ claims of innocence and use it in making applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. In this video, we talk to some of the student volunteers and Dr Andrew Green, the Centre’s director, about the activities of the Centre.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Crime, Justice and Society

The University of Sheffield

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: