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.

3 responses to “Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

  1. Profoundly troubling.

  2. Innocence Projects across the UK can flourish and provide training, support and links to cases through a system of mutual aid, and can only benefit from being released from restrictions imposed by an undemocratic and unaccountable central organisation.

  3. I agree with Carole to some extent but we are not shutting up shop this could not be further from the truth. The University of Sheffield School of Law are in fact (as are other projects around the country) getting stronger and having more impact and work very, very hard. We have now become a Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre and are dropping the Innocence Project name. We have also now taken on a joint enterprise case (we were not allowed before under the strict rules of INUK) and we hope to help other Universities and work with others also. We will of course investigate becoming members of the Innocence Network but the criteria is a hard one for most universities to meet.
    To facilitate discussion/support for those continuing with casework in the UK, I think perhaps a University Miscarriages of Justice Alliance might be workable, if there is sufficient interest. But it would need to be simply a private forum where people could discuss things in a supportive environment, rather than a public airing of issues. It would need very clear and narrow parameters – certainly to start with – by being essentially a free discussion forum for people in universities dealing with miscarriages of Justice work. It would, I hope, provide healthy supportive discussion and advice with the freedom to express views that won’t always agree with those of others.
    I know this would need careful thought because there already exist a number of “organisations” arguably with similar aims, although not dedicated to university support, and perhaps in time any forum might need to be extended beyond universities. We would want to avoid any confusion or duplication of effort. But I do agree with Carole that you can’t have a “Network” that is essentially one university and essentially one person/project. Sheffield Hallam plan to host an event on November 26th so look out for information about that event.

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