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The Best Legal Experience I've Had

Jenni Draper

By Jenni Draper on 05/03/15

The Best Legal Experience I've Had
In the final year of my degree, I learned that my university, The University of Essex, was setting up an Innocence Project, working alongside the charity Inside Justice. This was a very exciting opportunity to use my legal education and also to give something back to the community to help those who cannot help themselves. 

The Innocence Project is all about helping people who have been convicted for a crime that they are arguing they did not commit. The defendant we are helping is protesting his innocence for a crime he claims that he did not commit and, alongside this, there is a huge lack of evidence against him. This is why the case is so interesting.

Throughout the project we have had four induction days. Two days were devoted to forensic evidence. The importance of understanding the implications of evidence gathering is so that we can identify forensic leads which could be employed now in a case to see if the conviction was safe. These two day-long workshops were led by forensic scientist Tracy Alexander, who is a member of the Inside Justice Advisory Panel, and involved a trip to the City of London Police HQ where simulated crime scenes were set up for us.  I learnt so much more than I expected to from my involvement in this project. Tracy helped us to think about how easy it is for forensics to go wrong and, on the other hand, how important they are to a case and why they are used when trying to make a conviction. The induction days also helped to highlight the total lack of forensic evidence found in the case that I was working on and how important the tests that could have been carried out would have been, and still could be, to the conviction of the murderer, whoever that is.

On another induction day, we were given the opportunity to meet Keith Hyatt who was convicted in 2002 of a crime that he did not commit. The BBC TV series Rough Justice had found the evidence which led to his conviction being quashed and a new forensic review led by Tracy Alexander led to the real murderer being identified. Speaking to Keith allowed me to see how important the work is, not only what Inside Justice are doing but also the work that we students are doing since we are working on a case that could change someone’s life. Although it is important that we do our best to help our client, it is also important to understand the heartache this can cause for the victim’s family. Although it may be hard for the family to have to hear that Inside Justice are trying to help the defendant, it is also important that the right person is convicted. Furthermore, if the right person was not convicted, it is important to find out who did commit the crime to ensure dangerous people are identified and imprisoned and to ensure justice for the victim and their family. 

I have been speaking to Louise Shorter in order to be able to continue working for the charity once I finish my degree. The work that Inside Justice are doing for people who have no opportunity to help themselves is remarkable and it needs recognition since they put so much hard work and time into this, not for their benefit but for those they are supporting. Inside Justice do not make a simple decision of whether they feel a person is guilty or innocent, rather they take on cases that appear to be unsafe. This could be for many different reasons. In our case it is due to the lack of evidence against the defendant on which his conviction was based and also due to forensic evidence not being tested or tested incorrectly. Therefore the conviction was not entirely safe. Inside Justice have the support in our case of many professionals, some of whom are willing to undertake testing of evidence or to offer expert and legal advice without charge.

My involvement in the Innocence Project has become very important to me, not only due to my interest in the legal system but also from a personal note since I have formed a connection with the case we have been working on and I want to do my best to help Inside Justice ensure that justice is served, whether that be to confirm that the judgment made was correct or to help find out who really committed the crime the defendant has been convicted of. Due to my growing interest I am also hoping to take on another case that Inside Justice is working on. I want to take on a second case so that I can support the charity by doing some work to look into the case to try to do my best to help in any way I can. This will ensure that those who have been convicted but are not guilty are set free to try to live what is left of their lives.

My experience has been and will continue to be wholly invaluable. My involvement in the project has been the best legal experience I have had to date and I am not ready to give it up, hence my desire to continue working for the charity on a voluntary basis, to give up my spare time to help them in any way I can.