University of Bristol Innocence Project

Introduction

Dr Michael Naughton 2014The 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:

Aims

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:

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:

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.

Casework Enquiry

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

Queens Road

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

 Contact

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

Queens Road

Bristol

BS8 1RJ