The University of Bristol Innocence Project (UoBIP) was established in the University of Bristol Law School in January 2005 by Dr Michael Naughton, an academic expert in miscarriages of justice. It is the first specialist law clinic in the UK that is dedicated to assisting alleged victims of wrongful conviction on a pro bono basis. It is the founding member of the Innocence Network UK (INUK), an umbrella organisation of more than 20 member innocence projects in UK universities.
The University of Bristol Innocence Project aims to educate students about the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of the innocent and the deficiencies of the criminal justice system through their work on live cases of prisoners maintaining innocence who meet the casework criteria of the Innocence Network UK (INUK).
It provides “access to justice” for clients convicted of serious criminal offences who claim that they are factually innocent, who have exhausted the available legal aid, and, who do not have legal representation. It gives law students at Bristol an unprecedented opportunity to work on real cases of alleged wrongful convictions under close academic supervision and with input from specialist criminal appeals lawyers and forensic scientists where appropriate, who also give their time and expertise on a pro bono basis.
It is important to note that the University of Bristol Innocence Project is NOT a campaign or victim support organisation and does NOT give legal advice, which will always be given by practicing lawyers where appropriate.
For more details on the establishment of the University of Bristol Innocence Project, see:
In practical terms, student volunteers attend training conferences and they learn to screen cases according to a specified criteria to distinguish cases with claims of factual innocence for which research and investigations can determine whether they are true or not. They undertake desktop investigations, going through witness statements, forensic reports, legal research, etc. They can experience fieldwork investigations, prison visits, interviewing witnesses, conducting crime scene re-constructions. They can experience working with lawyers, forensic scientists and other experts. They learn to write legal letters, briefings, applications/submissions to legal bodies, particularly the police, the Crown Prosecution Service. They establish and maintain good client relationships. They make applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the statutory body that reviews alleged miscarriages of justice and refers them back to the Court of Appeal if it is felt that there is a “real possibility” that the conviction will be overturned.
This requires caseworkers to have the following attributes and skills:
Inquisitive/curious attitude necessary for the investigation of real cases;
Excellent organisational skills;
Excellent written and oral communication skills;
Able to process and analyse large amounts of information in a meticulous and detailed fashion;
The ability to work well both independently and within a team framework;
The ability to work with a wide range of people including representatives from the various criminal justice system agencies (police, prosecutors, prison and parole staff, CCRC), criminal appeal lawyers, forensic science experts, other students, prisoners and their families;
The capacity to take initiative (be proactive) and think strategically and critically;
Reliable and willing to commit between 4-6 hours per week, on average over the life of the academic term (approx. 150 hours per academic year);
Able to travel for prison visits and obtain documents, if required; and,
Computer literacy, including experience using common office software.
The University of Bristol Innocence Project, therefore, enhances the learning experiences of law students who get an insight into “law in action”, as opposed to a “dry” and more restricted learning experience from the “law in books”. Participation rewards students with a range of educational benefits and transferrable legal skills that can supplement the teaching and learning on the normal law degree curriculum and improve their employability after university including:
“Lawyering” skills: dealing with clients, acting like a professional and dealing with other professionals.
Communication skills: written/oral/formal presentation.
Critical thinking and analysis: Problem solving, creative/lateral thinking,
Collaboration and teamwork.
Case management: record keeping/time management, organising and analysing large files, prioritising their workload, dealing with interruptions and unscheduled work.
Fact-finding: utilising a variety of resources, use of different disciplines outside of law, application of law to the facts.
Although yet to assist in overturning an alleged wrongful conviction, the University of Bristol Innocence Project has seen successful in assisting clients to have their cases referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and to the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. It has also successfully represented clients in Parole Board oral hearings, assisting them to progress through the prison system to release.
These efforts have been recognised by two Attorney General’s Student and Law School Pro Bono Awards and a Bristol Law Society Pro Bono Award.
If you feel that you have been wrongly convicted or you are a family member or friend of someone who claims that they have been wrongly convicted please do NOT write to the UoBIP directly.
Instead, please write to the following address with a brief outline of the case:
Innocence Network UK (INUK)
Wills Memorial Building
Bristol BS8 1RJ
You will then be sent an introductory letter that sets out the scope of Innocence Network UK (INUK) and its member innocence projects and a Preliminary Questionnaire to be completed and returned to the INUK.
INUK will assess if your case is eligible for investigation by a member innocence project based on the details provided in your Preliminary Questionnaire
If you want to know more about the work of the University of Bristol Innocence Project, please write to:
Dr Michael Naughton
Director, University of Bristol Innocence Project
University of Bristol Law School
Wills Memorial Building