Manchester students helping people to access justice
Law students at The University of Manchester are using their skills to help people convicted of crimes who maintain their innocence and continue to appeal.
The Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre was established by Professor Claire McGourlay in the University’s School of Law, and aims to find evidence that will assist in making an application for a person’s case to be reviewed for referral back to the Court of Appeal.
When a person convicted of a serious crime has exhausted the normal appeals process, there is almost no legal aid available for that person to fund investigation into possible sources of fresh evidence that could support her or his claim of innocence. Volunteer students at the Centre make a real difference by offering their services to such individuals free of charge.
They interview clients and their families & friends, speak to witnesses, write reports for solicitors and barristers, organise exhibits for a trial and have meetings with forensic scientists. Their work is supervised and supported at every stage by practicing lawyers.
The students have no previous knowledge or experience of criminal cases when they join, and so need extensive support and guidance in order to carry out this work. The Centre has responsibilities both towards students and clients, and so is committed to making involvement with it a positive and rewarding experience for both. It now has over 20 students, and attracts applications from many more every year.
“The Centre gives our students real experience of working with criminal barristers and solicitors to try and get our clients cases back to the Court of Appeal,” said Claire. “It takes students out of the classroom, so they can apply what they have read in their books.”
Doing this kind of work is so important, as the people we help are at the end of the road and need help to find the evidence that could overturn their convictions. It also instils a sense of social justice in students that stays with them long after they leave University.
The School of Law also operates a Legal Advice Centre, which has over 300 student volunteers offering free legal advice to members of the public who are not able to access legal advice elsewhere, and provides the students with hands-on experience of legal issues to develop their skills.