Students Staff

13 October 2015

Miscarriage of Justice Project

Richard Owen, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex shares an update on his TALIF-funded Miscarriage of Justice project…

What is the Miscarriage of Justice Project at Essex?

Simulated crime scene

Students learn how evidence can be contaminated at a simulated crime scene at City of London police station

The Miscarriage of Justice Project, launched in the 2014/15 academic year with the assistance of a Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TALIF) grant, is an interdisciplinary project involving both law and criminology students and runs under the auspices of the Essex Law Clinic.  The students have been working with lawyers, forensic scientists, campaigners, journalists and psychologists on a murder case where the client has exhausted his appeals against his murder conviction but there remains doubt over the conviction’s safety.   Law students were able to be involved on an accredited or extracurricular basis.

The case was referred to us by the charity, Inside Justice, and students have been dealing with issues relating to forensic science, witness identification, and points of evidence.  The TALIF grant was invaluable in funding an induction programme which enabled students to understand the underlying issues quickly.   Induction activities included a simulated crime scene, which was held at City of London police station.

Student learning

This practical exercise gave students an insight into how evidence can be contaminated in its journey from the crime scene to the courtroom.

The first task was to create a timeline of provable events.  We initially used the judge’s summing up to work out the key events and then started drilling down into other documentation to see how it could be fleshed out.  Once we had this overview we then decided on appropriate lines of inquiry and forwarded our suggestions to Inside Justice and the client for their feedback and their preferences for prioritisation.

We made a site visit to the spot where the victim’s body had been found.  This was easier said than done as the body had been found on farmland which was part of a huge farm.  It took two days of enlarging sections from Ordinance Survey maps and cross checking with the case papers before we were quite sure we had pinpointed the exact spot.

Site visit

The students visit the site where a body was found as part of their learning

Students were then assigned their lines of inquiry and would meet weekly to discuss progress and report anything else their investigations had discovered which might be of assistance to students working on different areas.

Finally, students drafted submissions to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (the CCRC) based on the results of their investigations in an attempt to get the case reopened.  These draft submissions have been sent to the client’s representatives and the case is currently in the CCRC’s pending file.  It should be heard in about eight months’ time.

Student feedback

Student feedback was very positive.  They particularly valued working on a real case.  One student wrote an entry for the Inside Justice website saying it was the best legal education experience that she had ever had.  Two students are continuing to volunteer over the summer and one has found part-time paid employment as a direct result of her involvement in the project.

Outcomes and benefits

In addition to the academic benefits of seeing the ‘law in action’ as opposed to the ‘law in books’ one of the striking features of the project is how it has enhanced students’ employability.  They developed invaluable skills of document management which will transfer to civil, as well as criminal, litigation.  They had to think carefully about issues such as client confidentiality and, above all, they learnt a lot about teamwork.  Working in interdisciplinary teams made them more conscious about how they could best contribute to the team’s efforts in order to advance the client’s case.

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