By Paige Maguire
The Innocence Project believe Gareth Jones was wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting an elderly woman in a Powys nursing home. They have been working tirelessly to set the record straight, taking into consideration the weak DNA evidence previously used, and his learning disabilities.
Elizabeth Johnson, a student volunteering on this specific case, says the Innocence Project “provides important support to some of the most vulnerable and stigmatised people in society. Although it can be frustrating, the work is incredibly valuable and motivating”.
The Innocence Project runs throughout universities and law firms, and it is a project that aims to resolve miscarriages of justice. The non-profit legal organisation was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, and it focuses on the use of DNA testing in order to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted. Incredibly, the Innocence Project has freed 351 convicted people and found 150 real criminals.
For Cardiff University students, getting involved consists of signing up through the Law school, and attending weeks of talks and training sessions which consist of analysing example cases.
Following this, students are required to fill out an application form. This entails explaining why they are interested in the project and an analysis of each of the training sessions.
Students must also choose an area of wrongful convictions to focus on and research, such as eye witness testimony or false confessions. In conclusion, students must complete a write up of a case that they are provided and based on the quality of their application, they will be accepted onto the Innocence Project.
They are then allocated a group to work with going forward. Each group works on a different case.
Third year student Daisy, currently working on a murder case, says the project is important because it allows people “to contact the appellant directly and gain insight into their perspective of the crime – more than anything it’s rewarding to do actual work that is helping real people rather than just studying past cases and revising for exams. It’s all very real”.
This is a vital aspect of the pro-bono scheme, in that it provides students with hands-on experience in investigation, client communication, evidence analysis and the justice system. So far so, as to even being able to attend the Court of Appeal for cases such as the Gareth Jones case.
Dr Dennis Eady, one of the project leaders, describes the project as: “a response to the failings of the criminal justice system, specifically the appeal system”.
“The Cardiff Law School innocence Project involves students working on serious cases where the client is maintaining innocence. This work is undertaken in their own time (it is not part of their degree requirements)”.
“As such the project is a last resort and a last hope for people who cannot find any other avenue to review their case and seek an appeal. From a client’s point of view the project provides support and investigation into their case (including engaging the help of various experts when required)”.
“From the students’ point of view the project provides real experience of casework and exposure to the harsh realities of injustice and the crisis in the justice system.”
This reinforces Daisy’s beliefs that it is vital in gaining applicable experience.