Category Archives: United Kingdom

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

For some time, the news emanating from the UK has been getting worse with regard to the potential for miscarriages of justice, with law reforms diminishing legal protections for suspects and the almost total withdrawal of legal aid for the vast majority (nevermind the current moral panic of historic child sexual abuse which is swelling the prison population). This also comes at a time when changes to the rules on who can receive compensation for miscarriages of justice have also been ‘tightened’ to the point where barely anyone will qualify. I have blogged about many of the bad news stories coming out of the UK – including forensic science mishaps and police corruption seemingly continuing unabated regardless of new regulators or complaints bodies.Justice statue

Despite what one could view as the growing IMPORTANCE therefore of ‘innocence’ work in the UK, it looks as if things may be heading in the opposite direction. Following years of expansion with Innocence Projects being set up in universities across the country, it appears that these are now being encouraged to close. There are a host of reasons why Innocence Projects in the UK may be under threat (not least their position within univerisities whose priorites narrow ever further every day toward simply profit-making and rising up league tables.) They do not operate as a mirror to those in the US and internationally, largely because of the existence of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, their work is still invaluable. When I was Director of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, we received hundreds of letters (which still arrive weekly if not daily), reviewed dozens of cases, and assisted many prisoners. It also educated many students in the causes of, and remedies for, miscarriages of justice.  It gave many law students a passion for criminal legal aid work – where there is no money to be made and certainly no glory.

So – to read the announcement on the INUK website is all the more shocking. (see here… INUK – New Beginnings ). Where innocence work in the UK needs innovation, inspiration and support, it is being told that the day has come to pack our bags and go home. My thoughts are not only with those of us (staff and students alike) who have worked many years to get innocence taken seriously again in the UK, but those prisoners now who will be back at square one, with nowhere to turn yet again. How an ‘innocence network’ can survive, nevermind have any impact, with only one member, will remain to be seen.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Gerry Conlon’s life is a reminder that wrongful convictions happen everywhere

By Michael Naughton in The Conversation:

Gerry Conlon, wrongly jailed for a 1975 IRA bombing in which he had no part, died on June 21 at the age of 60. The case of the Guildford Four remains one the most famous miscarriage of justice in Britain – but more and more cases of wrongful imprisonment are coming to light around the world.

On June 18, it was widely reported that Jonathan Fleming, who in April 2014 successfully overturned his conviction for the murder of Darryl Alston in 1989, had begun a lawsuit against the City of New York for the 25 years he spent wrongly incarcerated.

It is alleged that prosecutors knowingly manufactured a case against Fleming, even dropping criminal charges against a key prosecution witness in return for false identification evidence. Fleming was on a family holiday in Disneyland at the time of the murder. He is now suing the city of New York for $162m.

An incredible story, we might think, but one that is becoming increasingly commonplace. And the growing awareness of cases like this is now fostering a global social movement to help innocent victims of wrongful convictions.

Injustice goes global

In a recent case from the Netherlands that was overturned in November 2013, Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas served eight and five years respectively for the murders of brothers Lisandro and Wendell Martis. Separate alibi evidence for the men that was presented at the appeal hearing proved that Thomas’s confession, obtained under extreme pressure from the police, could not have been true, with the public prosecutor conceding that there was no evidence at all that connected either him or Melaan to the crime.

In June 2012 in Japan, Govinda Mainali overturned his conviction for rape and murder after 15 years of wrongful imprisonment. New DNA evidence proved that semen and hair found at the crime scene were not his. His conviction was based on the false testimony of his former flatmate, who claimed he was illegally detained by the police for almost three months and often interrogated for ten hours a day until he broke and was forced to sign a statement.

In the UK, Victor Nealon overturned his conviction last December for an attempted rape outside a nightclub in Redditch, Worcestershire. He spent 17 years in prison before DNA evidence proved that he was not the perpetrator. Like Jonathan Fleming, he too was convicted on eyewitness identification evidence.

And in March of this year, José Guadalupe Macías Maldonado, who had been exonerated after serving 11 years in prison, soaked himself in petrol and set himself on fire in the Civic Center Plaza of Mexicali, Baja, Mexico. He committed suicide in protest after the financial support that he alleged the state government had promised him failed to materialise. Mr. Macías, convicted of murder in 2002, was convicted thanks to mistakes in the investigation conducted by the prosecution.

This apparently random smattering of cases just illustrates that wrongful convictions occur in legal systems in all parts of the world, and stem from the same sorts of causes. They are very much the tip of a worldwide iceberg of wrongful convictions.

They are testament to the universality of shoddy and corrupt policing, over-zealous prosecutors who put winning cases above fair trials for the accused, unreliable “expert” and forensic science evidence, witnesses who give false or mistaken evidence, and defence lawyers who fail to present evidence that might protect their clients from wrongful conviction.

As the case of the Guildford Four showed, proving wrongful conviction is often a matter of hard graft and dogged re-investigation of the facts. This is where the Innocence Network comes in.

To the rescue

The Innocence Network, which I founded, is an affiliation of organisations around the globe that provide pro bono legal services to convicted individuals who maintain their innocence, and which conduct investigations to reexamine their cases. The network currently has 63 member organisations, with 52 in the US and 11 in other countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, South Africa and the UK. Each organisation operates independently, but they all coordinate to share information and expertise.

In recent years, initiatives to assist alleged innocent victims of wrongful convictions have also sprung up in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico), eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic), Africa (Nigeria, The Gambia) and Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, Philippines, China). These organisations also report similar flaws and failings in their criminal justice systems, problems and practices that see innocent individuals convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

My colleagues Thomas Osborne and Gregor McLennan have written in other contexts about why certain ideas have “legs”, and the notion of “critique-proof” concepts. Both are useful ways to look at the international social movement that is now emerging to assist alleged innocent victims of wrongful conviction all over the world. Even the staunchest of advocates for the criminal justice system would find it difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the idea that innocent victims of wrongful convictions should be assisted.

The argument for this challenge to the system is particularly strong when it invokes the broader societal consequences of wrongful conviction. The University of North Carolina’s Frank Baumgartner and his colleagues recently devised the term “wrongful liberty” to describe the situation where an innocent person is wrongfully convicted and imprisoned while the true perpetrator is left free to commit more crimes.

Citing data from the Innocence Project, Baumgartner et al’s research showed that of the first 300 individuals exonerated through DNA testing since 1992, 153 cases identified the true perpetrator. Of these, 130 perpetrators were later convicted of 139 additional violent crimes, which included 33 murders, 76 sexual assaults, and 30 other violent crimes – which would not have occurred had the perpetrators been convicted for their original crimes.

Beyond left and right

The concept of wrongful liberty is critique-proof. It is quite simply a winning argument that lends weight to the mantra of innocence efforts around the world: “When the innocent are wrongly convicted, the guilty remain at liberty with the potential to commit further crimes.”

Those concerned with the plight of the innocent languishing in prison are no longer being marginalised by the right-wing politics of “law and order”, which frame their concerns as distractions from the fight against crime.

The collateral damage of wrongful conviction is now not only about the innocent victims of wrongful convictions and imprisonment and their families: more and more, we see the damage done to the victims of additional crimes committed by true offenders benefiting from wrongful liberty while innocents serve their sentences for them.

This unites the “left” and “right” of the conventional political divide on criminal justice. It emboldens those who aim to protect all members of society, both from the harms of crime and of wrongful convictions, by ensuring that only the genuinely guilty are convicted. Only then will criminal justice systems truly deserve their title.

 

 

Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, dies in Belfast.

” Gerry Conlon, who spent 15 years in jail for a crime he did not commit, has died in Belfast at the age of 60. Mr Conlon was jailed in 1975 for the bombing of two pubs in Guildford on October 5th, 1974. He had emigrated to London in 1974 and was arrested six weeks after the bombing. Mr Conlon was jailed along with his father Giuseppe Conlon, seven members of the Maguire Seven along with three of his friends Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson. Their jailing was one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history along with the Birmingham Six.” Read more of The Irish Times’ report here.

Victor Nealon’s compensation claim turned down by British Ministry of Justice

Victor Nealon’s conviction was overturned by the British Court of Appeal last year, but his compensation claim for 17 years of imprisonment has been turned down by the British Ministry of Justice.

The Guardian reports that the “MoJ told Nealon’s lawyers that the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, had reviewed the information and ‘concluded that your client has not suffered a miscarriage of justice as defined by section 133 of the 1988 Act’.” (read the full Guardian piece here)

“[...] in turning down Mr Nealon’s claim for compensation, the MoJ said the owner of the DNA could not be identified, and added it could not be established that it ‘undoubtedly belonged to the attacker’.” (read the BBC report here)

This case was previously blogged about on this blog here and here.