Category Archives: United Kingdom

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Breaking News: Irish Innocence Project Exonerates Executed Man…

From RTE:

A man who was hanged for murder over 70 years ago is due to be pardoned.

Harry Gleeson was executed for the murder of Moll Mc Carthy who was shot dead in Tipperary in November 1940.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is due to bring a memo to Cabinet in the next few weeks recommending the President pardon Mr Gleeson.

The Department of Justice reviewed the case following a submission last year from the Irish Innocence Project, based at Griffith College in Dublin.

RTÉ News understands that the review, conducted by Senior Counsel Shane Murphy concluded accepted new evidence which merited a pardon being granted to Harry Gleeson.

A neighbour of Ms Mc Carthy, an unmarried mother of seven, Harry Gleeson reported the discovery of her body.

Three months later he was hanged for her murder.

Ireland: Inaugural International Wrongful Conviction Conference & Film Festival

The Irish Innocence Project, working since 2009 at Griffith College, has announced Ireland’s Inaugural International Wrongful Conviction Conference and Film Festival – to newlogo2be held 26th and 27th June 2015. They have also launched a crowd funding appeal: “Be the Key: Set an Innocent Free”, to help the college students to work on overturning wrongful convictions in Ireland.

300914 Wrongful Conviction CR Shutterstock_0_0

See more details of the  conference and film festival – with great speakers, and the crowd funding appeal here:

Inaugural International Wrongful Conviction Conference & Film Festival

Great day in UK for Innocence: Cardiff University Justice Project Overturns Wrongful Conviction

The news coming from the UK in recent months, if not years, has rarely been good. Today (9th December 2014) is different, for today, the Criminal Court of Appeal found the conviction of Dwaine George ‘unsafe’ and overturned his  _79607026_ico12-1conviction for murder. George, convicted of shooting dead a teenager in a gang related incident in 2001, served 12 years of his life sentence behind bars, and was released last year.

Professor Julie Price and Dr Dennis Eady, who run Cardiff’s Innocence Project, were joined at the Royal Courts of Justice by 30 Cardiff law students, past and present, to hear the result of the students’ investigative work. Dr Eady said: “It has taken nine years of hard work since the project was launched to get to this point, and based on our students’ efforts the Court of Appeal has decided that Mr George’s conviction is unsafe.We appreciate that today’s decision will be difficult for Daniel Dale’s family, but if the wrong person was jailed then the right outcome has today been achieved.”

Prof Price added: “For Cardiff Law School Innocence Project, and other university projects working on alleged wrongful conviction cases, this is a significant day. It demonstrates that universities are about more than research, and can show public impact from innovative teaching and learning. This result has been achieved by collaborative effort. A huge thanks to our many supporters and students past and present.”

Sir Brian Levenson said in his ruling: “In addition to expressing our gratitude to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, we pay tribute to the work of the Innocence Project and Pro Bono Unit at Cardiff Law School, which took up the appellant’s case and pursued it so diligently.”

With the recent turmoil amongst those working in universities across the UK and their Innocence Projects (mostly called Justice Projects today because they do not satisfy the criteria for the title ‘Innocence Project’) this is a great victory. Many staff work tirelessly for little or no recognition, with students facing ever greater hurdles to have their work and dedication praised. Cardiff University;s staff and students will continue to work tirelessly and have many other cases that are working their way, slowly, through the CCRC. One can only hope that this is the first success of many. But today is a also shot in the arm for all of those working on behalf of the innocent – sorely needed, and richly deserved.

Watch news item and interviews here:

Cardiff Uni students help Dwaine George win murder appeal

Read more here:

UK judge praises students for helping overturn murder conviction

Judge praises Cardiff University law students for helping overturn Dwaine George’s murder conviction

Ex-gang member Dwaine George cleared of 2002 murder on appeal

Parliamentary Inquiry into UK’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC)

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the Guildford Four, (one of the notorious ‘Irish’ miscarriages of justice in England and Wales that led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission – see anniversary article here… ), controversy still surrounds the organisation. This week it was revealed that the body is ‘fast-tracking’ the case of professional footballer Ched Evans, released this week after serving half of a five year sentence for rape. Ched, who played for UnknownSheffield United football club, has always maintained his innocence and has applied to the CCRC to investigate his case. The CCRC’s explanations for the decision to fast-track his case have been unconvincing (read more here…). This negative publicity comes at a critical time for the CCRC, as a Parliamentary inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the miscarriages body is launched by the Justice Committee. The Committee is inviting submissions from interested parties, in order to answer the following four questions:

  1. Whether the CCRC has fulfilled the expectations and remit which accompanied it at its establishment following the 1993 report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
  2. Whether the CCRC has in general appropriate and sufficient (i) statutory powers and (ii) resources to carry out its functions effectively, both in terms of investigating cases and in the wider role of promoting confidence in the criminal justice system
  3. Whether the “real possibility” test for reference of a case to the Court of Appeal under section 13(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 is appropriate and has been applied appropriately by the CCRC
  4. Whether any changes to the role, work and remit of the CCRC are needed and, if so, what those changes should be.

The deadline for submissions is 5th December. You can read more here…. 

CCRC decides to fast-track review of Chis Evan’s high-profile conviction, but no clear reasons given

The UK Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has decided to prioritise its review of Chris Evan’s high-profile conviction. The Guardian reports that:

It would normally take around 18 months for the commission, which has a staff of 90, to examine a claim of miscarriage of justice. Instead, the commission has taken the unusual decision to examine Evans’s case within weeks. […] However, [the CCRC spokesman] said that, after a request from Evans’s legal team to prioritise the case, “in line with our published policy on prioritisation, and in relation to the facts of the case and the issues raised in Mr Evans’s application to us … we now expect our substantive investigation to begin within the next few weeks.”

Problem is when the CCRC does not give any clear reasons as to why it chose to prioritise this case, particularly when it is has a huge existing back-log and this is high-profile case.

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New Scholarship Spotlight: Criminologizing Wrongful Convictions

Professor Michael Naughten has posted the above-titled article on The British Journal of Criminology.  Download here.  The abstract states:

This article considers the apparent lack of serious engagement with issues pertaining to wrongful convictions by criminology at present. It seeks to address this by criminologizing wrongful convictions in two senses: firstly, by highlighting a variety of forms of intentional law or rule breaking by police officers and prosecutors in the causation of wrongful convictions that in other circumstances would likely be treated as crime and dealt with as such; and, secondly, to reveal the extent to which such powerful criminal justice system agents can cause profound and wide-ranging forms of harm to victims of wrongful convictions, their families and society as a whole with almost total impunity. In so doing, the relevance of the study of the intentional forms of crime and deviance committed by criminal justice system agents in the manufacture of wrongful convictions to both arms of the criminological divide is emphasized: mainstream and critical criminology. The overall aim is to show that the study of wrongful convictions can further extend and enrich existing criminological epistemology in vital and important ways and can even contribute to the prevention and possible elimination of those that are caused deliberately.

 

What’s Next for Innocence Work in the UK?

From thejusticegap.com:  By Hannah Quirk

The End of Innocence, and The Chance of a New Beginning

The sudden demise of the Innocence Network UK (INUK) has caused consternation amongst those working with students on miscarriage of justice cases  – but it also offers a chance for anew beginning in clinical legal education in this country. Following my work at the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and an American innocence project, I argued in 2006, that criminal justice policy transfers between these two countries are not straightforward. Now seems a good opportunity to revisit some of those concerns.

Many of the problems with the work of INUK stem from the fact that it was just assumed that innocence projects were a good idea in this country. Innocence Projects in the USA are a commendable – if wholly inadequate – response to the appalling numbers who are wrongly convicted, with no hope of post-conviction legal assistance. These projects investigate and litigate cases that can also help campaign for criminal justice reforms. The situation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is very different (Scotland has its own body).

In this country, a range of measures governing the collection and use of evidence has reduced the most egregious errors – the television series Life on Mars was founded on the audience recognising how policing had changed since the 1970s. Unlike in the USA, very few cases turn on DNA analysis which means that most appeals are on the basis of unsafety – we can never know with certainty whether the individuals were factually innocent or not. The nature of the caseload in this country is different; there far more are domestic sex abuse cases which bring unique investigatory challenges. Most significantly, we have a state funded body that investigates miscarriages of justice and refers cases back to the appeal court where appropriate.

Rather than continuing trying to shoehorn the work being done into the Innocence Network’s (trademarked) template, we have an opportunity to reflect on the experience gained over the last decade and consider the best way to proceed. Now is the time to think about what these projects are trying to achieve and what kind of assistance they can offer those claiming to be wrongly convicted. This needs to take into account the different types of cases in this country, the different level of legal education (undergraduate here rather than post-graduate in America) and how to work with the CCRC which remains the only mechanism for getting a conviction quashed. The most important consideration is, of course, how appellants are treated but there are also questions about students that require attention.

Assuming the university-led work is to continue, at what the CCRC chairman has said is a challenging time for his organisation, the following points are important:

  • Should ‘innocence’ be in the name? It is a compelling title but – as the projects have discovered – vanishingly few cases are of demonstrable innocence. The legal test that students need to apply is ‘unsafety’ – boring, bureaucratic but infinitely more protective of both suspects and the integrity of the criminal justice system. We should be teaching students – some of whom will become defence lawyers, prosecutors, police officers, journalists or politicians – why that test is so important. Students at the University of Northumbria who worked on Alex Allen’s successful referral and compensation claim, work from the Student Law Office for example.
  • What work should the students undertake? As Michael Naughton explained in his statement about INUK’s future, the realities of the undergraduate curriculum mean that it is difficult for students to dedicate sufficient time to a case. Any case that is not concluded in the academic year, has to wait to be reallocated, new students have to familiarise themselves with the case – and more time is lost for the applicant. This is unsatisfactory for students who do not see a case to completion, and dispiriting for applicants and their loved ones. In cases where there is a potential referral, this can mean a person spending years longer in prison than if they had gone directly to the CCRC. It might be more profitable for all concerned, if students focused on writing applications to the CCRC for applicants and monitoring the case progression, (as I understand students at the University of Leeds Innocence Project do). Research has indicated that CCRC applicants with legal assistance have a greater success rate). Those projects that want students to undertake investigations could focus on cases that have already been rejected by the CCRC so there is nothing to lose by any delay caused.
  • What should students not do? Emily Bolton, who founded the Innocence Project New Orleans(IPNO) and is now establishing the Centre for Criminal Appeals said in an interview the answers are not going to be in the office or on the phone but found by knocking on doors and revisiting crime scenes. If I’m missing a fact, I get my car keys and get out and find someone who can give me the answers.’ This encapsulates exactly why the US experience cannot be imported here – such actions could fatally compromise an appeal if the Court of Appeal considers it has been tainted. There are also risks to students engaging in such work – whether in contacting potential witnesses, sex offenders who enjoy rehearsing the details of their cases, or through the distressing nature of some of what they read. Kevin McMahon, founder of Merseyside Against Injustice, was convicted of perverting the course of justice for seeking a retraction statement from a prosecution witness before an appeal hearing.

In 2005, I left the CCRC and spent six months working at IPNO. I planned to conduct a piece of research comparing how miscarriages of justice are dealt with in the UK and the USA. Within a week, I realised that my project would have to change – the two systems were worlds apart.

I had left a well-funded, stable institution with statutory investigative powers, for an office that was scrabbling for funding, run by a handful of overworked staff supported by interns, was literally being eaten by termites, faced huge resistance from the police and prosecutors and was shortly to have to cope with Hurricane Katrina.

I was filled with admiration for the work of innocence projects but returned home with a renewed appreciation of the – obviously imperfect – system in this country. I found it baffling that the American model was being looked to for inspiration when what we had here was so much better.

None of this is intended as a criticism of those who have worked very hard to establish these projects over the last decade, but good intentions can still have unfortunate consequences. These cases are amongst the most difficult in the criminal justice system – despite all the problems with the National Health Service, most of us would be uncomfortable at the idea of medical students attempting brain surgery. Whilst the Americans may love Sherlock, importing the Scooby Doo model here (‘… and I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!’) is not necessarily the answer.

To misquote George Bernard Shaw, when it comes to wrongful convictions, America and England are separated by much more than a common language. This country has led the world in its response to wrongful convictions. Maybe the furore over INUK marks the time to set out on charting our own distinctive course in clinical legal education.

 

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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.

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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.