Updated: Jun 2
A large number of institutions over the past decade have identified the possible benefits of Legal Clinic education for university students and a popular pro bono student Law clinic movement has grown in the UK. The reason for this is because educational is moulded by present higher education policy.
It is accepted that students carrying out legal/advice tasks practically whilst also learning law gives students a learning experience which is deeper, along with the chance to get a real understanding of the ethical issues that even stimulation or learning from books cannot provide. In 2001 the Law Society of England and Wales began a review of the framework for training solicitors, under a process known initially as the Training Framework Review. A legal Clinic may be used to respond to some of the suggested changes outlined in the Training Framework Review, such as a greater focus on teaching and assessing legal and communication skills. Clinical legal education has increased in popularity in response to the need for universities to provide personal development planning (PDP) resources for their students in order to improve their career planning and incorporate reflective and entrepreneurial skills into the law curriculum.
In the United Kingdom, a variety of ‘live client' schemes and events have already emerged, ranging from initial advice and assistance to full representation. In this context, a new and exciting specialty field of clinical legal education is developing within Universities, modelled after and arising from the experience of Death Row cases in the United States.
The development of an innocence movement in the United Kingdom is being hailed by criminal lawyers and campaigning organisations in the miscarriages of justice community as filling a void in guidance while also providing students with a unique hands-on educational experience. In the United Kingdom, there are currently three innocence ventures, in Bristol, Leeds, and Cardiff.
Although innocence projects are still relatively new in the UK, they are generating interest among universities, which is expected to rise in the wake of the BBC's drama series The Innocence Project.
WHAT IS AN INNOCENCE PROJECT?
Innocence campaigns address the unmet legal needs of innocent victims of false convictions and others whose cases are not covered by legal aid. An innocence project is a live client specialist law clinic run by students that focuses on the study of false convictions. The fact that students are investigating actual crime cases is a distinguishing characteristic of innocence programmes. Undergraduate and/or postgraduate students in traditional academic environments, as well as those enrolled in vocational programmes, may perform this research. Academics supervise the students' practise in collaboration with practising solicitors who work on the cases pro bono.
The argument for innocence programmes represents the current criminal appeals system's complexity and budget limitations. Some prisoners have spent several years in jail before being exonerated, as is well known.
Despite this, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which was established in the aftermath of high-profile cases like the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, was not created to correct systemic flaws and ensure that wrongful convictions were overturned. Instead, the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 mandates that it examine the cases of alleged or suspected victims of miscarriages of justice to determine if they were received in full compliance with the criminal justice system's rules and procedures. The decision will be overturned if it is discovered that protocols were broken and that there is a "true chance" that the Court of Appeal will reverse the conviction.
Interestingly, the CCRC would logically refer cases of convicted criminals if their prosecutions were procedurally incorrect, but it is often unable to refer cases of innocent victims of false arrest if they do not meet the necessary requirements of new proof or new arguments. Even if the CCRC has proof that an applicant is innocent, if the evidence is inconclusive, the application would not be referred to the Court of Appeal.
Innocence campaigns in England and Wales seek legal grounds in the hope of obtaining a referral back to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) or, if second or "out of time" appeals, to the CCRC. In this sense, innocence projects serve not only as a forum for students learning about the flaws of the criminal justice system, but also as a place to conduct research into the different facets of the issue and the challenges that innocent victims of wrongful arrest or imprisonment, their families and friends, and even society as a whole continue to face.
The lessons learned while working on the innocence project cases will be used to teach students as well as be fed back into the criminal justice system to effect legal changes that will potentially minimise the likelihood of potential wrongful convictions. Other than the fact that they are concerned with claims of factual innocence rather than technical miscarriages of justice, there are no specific requirements for innocence programmes. Existing UK innocence programmes, on the other hand, have concentrated their efforts on wrongful conviction claimants who have served a considerable amount of time in prison and have ample time left on their sentences to allow for student analysis and investigation. When the Innocence Network UK was confronted with a mountain of letters demanding assistance, they made a pragmatic decision on which prisoners they should help.
When more innocence programmes are developed, it is expected that they will offer assistance to victims of false convictions who have completed their prison sentence or who have not received a custodial sentence but continue to protest their innocence.
WHAT IF STUDENTS ARE NOT CONSIDERING A CAREER IN THE CRIMINAL LAW?
Students along with staff should not be put off by the idea of an innocence project because they do not want to work in criminal law in the future or because they lack expertise or experience in this field. They should be mindful that the skills they will learn are highly transferable and desirable to law firms of all sizes and styles, in addition to being engaged with a worthy social justice cause and its underlying moral and ethical discussions.
They will be sifting through mountains of nuanced facts, efficiently managing time, and working as a team, giving oral and written presentations, drafting letters, conducting legal research, and so on. Innocence projects may add gravity to legal education by exploring areas of the subject that students would not otherwise experience and exposing them to other (often divisive and political) viewpoints on a relatively narrow topic. Of course, there are a variety of vehicles for this fascinating study of law and ethics in context, but the experience with the innocence project so far leads to an understanding that it would be a feasible alternative approach.
INNOCENCE NETWORK UK NATIONAL TRAINING PROGRAMME FOR INNOCENCE PROJECTS
The Innocence Network UK maintains an annual national training programme open to all universities in response to an increasing number of enquiries about starting an innocence project and to promote the further growth of innocence projects in the UK. The programme is structured to provide an overview of the legal aspects of criminal appeals litigation, as well as a realistic look at the restrictions on police investigations of serious crime, the Crown Prosecution Service's involvement, and the CCRC's role.
Students learn from high-profile victims of miscarriages of justice about the psychological impact of unjust conviction on the innocent and their families. It includes all sides of the story's perspectives and focuses on black letter rule, communication, and practical skills. The organisers have optimism that staff and students can begin to think about starting an innocence project as a way to give students a taste of clinical legal education without the resourcing and supervision limitations that come with more conventional clinical models. Staff and students who undergo the training benefit from the fact that it is held over a three-day period early in the academic year. Cases are available from a central bank, ready for investigation, and there is also the prospect of a central source for supervising criminal barristers.
Organisers hope that in a world with conflicting demands for scarce resources, and with so many other stresses on academic and vocational teachers, this package will be appealing, and that as the campaign gains traction, we will continue to have constructive conversations and share our experiences with other colleagues around the country.
 King College London, King’s Legal Clinic (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/legal-clinic); The University of Bristol’s Law Clinic (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/law/law-clinic/); York Law School Clinic (https://www.york.ac.uk/law/clinic/)  Kaiser, Frans, et al., Higher education policy: An international comparative perspective, (Elsevier, 2014).  Review of the Legal Practice Course https://ials.sas.ac.uk/ukcle/22.214.171.124/archive/law/resources/quality-management-and-assurance/tfr/index.html  Responding to the Training Framework Review: the UK Centre for Legal Education https://ials.sas.ac.uk/ukcle/126.96.36.199/archive/law/about/reports/responding-to-the-training-framework-review-the-uk/index.html  Thomas, Linden, and Nicholas Johnson, The Clinical Legal Education Handbook, (University of London Press, 2020).  Making history in university innocence projects, 9 December 2014 at https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/view/209435-making-history-in-university-innocence-projects  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t1k9  https://ccrc.gov.uk/  Criminal Cases Review Commission - Guidance for Legal Representatives https://ccrc.gov.uk/publications/application-guidance/  Innocence projects: a perfect solution for clinical legal education? https://ials.sas.ac.uk/ukcle/188.8.131.52/archive/law/resources/directions/previous/issue13/innocence/index.html  Ibid.
Kaiser, Frans, et al., Higher education policy: An international comparative perspective, (Elsevier, 2014).
Thomas, Linden, and Nicholas Johnson, The Clinical Legal Education Handbook, (University of London Press, 2020)
Criminal Cases Review Commission - Guidance for Legal Representatives https://ccrc.gov.uk/publications/application-guidance/
Innocence projects: a perfect solution for clinical legal education? https://ials.sas.ac.uk/ukcle/184.108.40.206/archive/law/resources/directions/previous/issue13/innocence/index.html
King College London, King’s Legal Clinic (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/legal-clinic)
The University of Bristol’s Law Clinic (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/law/law-clinic/);
York Law School Clinic (https://www.york.ac.uk/law/clinic/)
Making history in university innocence projects, 9 December 2014 at https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/view/209435-making-history-in-university-innocence-projects
Review of the Legal Practice Course https://ials.sas.ac.uk/ukcle/220.127.116.11/archive/law/resources/quality-management-and-assurance/tfr/index.html
Responding to the Training Framework Review: the UK Centre for Legal Education https://ials.sas.ac.uk/ukcle/18.104.22.168/archive/law/about/reports/responding-to-the-training-framework-review-the-uk/index.html