The Innocence Project

Uploaded by UniversityOfBristol on 28.05.2012

MICHAEL: When we first set the Innocence Project up, there were 5 students working on a single case at Bristol
In recent years, we've seen that grow from 20 to 40 and now, to almost 100 students.
That growth, I think it's part of a culture that's being created at the University of Bristol,
and it's all driven by the students themselves,
that are just wanting a piece of this action, so to speak.
They just want to get involved and see what they can do.
Innocence Network UK is an outgrowth of academic research into the problem of wrongful convictions.
It was set up to try to assist people in prison who may be innocent.
GABE: The Innocence Project's very much the first pinnacle model that's based in a University
where students actually work on criminal cases and specifically claims of innocence from prisoners who are maintaining innocence.
There is a variant of sociology that thinks if you're going to identify social problems in your academic research,
that you ought to try and get involved to try to offer solutions
and the means by which I could make a contribution was to set up Innocence Projects and direct students.
Collectively we could more together than I could do on my own.
Bristol University very much takes on a leadership role in terms of the Innocence Project's movement in this country.
We see about, year on year, 500 students working on average 5 to 6 hours a week on these cases,
so collectively we are generating about 20,000 pro bono hours a year,
and the work that the students do, is the work that lawyers wouldn't have legal aid funding or the resources to do.
One of the reasons I came to Bristol is because I wanted to do the Innocence Project.
I'd heard about it before and I came to Bristol for a tour and I was told it's actually based here, so that was great.
The first week we had a nice welcome meeting and there was some students from the Innocence Project
who did a talk and just introduced what the Innocence Network was and what they did
and I just knew straight away it was something I wanted to be involved in.
I think the Innocence Project's valuable because as a society we need to recognise that you can't put a legal label on someone
and assume that that reflects reality.
It's something that we can really help people that have no other options
they've got no legal aid left, they've got no solicitors to help them,
and there's no one who's going to investigate their case sufficiently.
Having another independent way to take your side of the story and put it forward in a coherent way,
just offers people hope...
...that's an incredibly valuable thing.
MICHAEL: The reason why we work on these cases is principally to try to unearth errors with the system
so we can make the system better;
and part of what we do at Bristol is not just working on cases, it's research around policy reforms that are required,
so it's those aspects of the project which are going to be, I think, as important as the casework as we move forward
because if we don't get those structural changes, we're going to be a lot more limited in cases that we can overturn.
GABE: Although this Innocence Project represents a very useful pool of resources,
they need to be properly supervised and properly directed
so that their efforts and resources can be channelled in a productive way
and we ourselves, as an organisation, need more funding so that we can actually make that happen
to make the organisation sustainable.
MICHAEL: The students are the gem of the Innocence Project,
they're motivated by a desire for social justice.
It's CV enhancing without a doubt but I think that more than just a CV thing,
these are real people, real families, real issues
and they can make a real difference.