Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Miscarriages of Justice

Course unit fact file
Unit code LAWS31062
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Miscarriages of justice (when an individual is wrongly convicted) have a profound impact on the individuals concerned, the victims of the original crime and, occasionally, lead to the reform of the criminal justice system. This course focuses on the system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but also looks at the global inequalities that cause wrongful convictions in other jurisdictions. It looks at how mistakes happen, what can be done to remedy these mistakes and how to prevent them happening again, it takes an interdisciplinary approach that draws on both law and criminology texts. We also bring in guest lecturers who are specialists in certain areas to speak to students. The speakers are leaders in the field.

  1. Introduction (cases that will be examined throughout the module, key terms, personnel and organisations). Definitions of miscarriages of justice: comparing different academic models and the effects of the chosen definition on how the criminal justice system operates.
  2. Causes of miscarriages of justice (individual error): false confessions, eyewitnesses.
  3. Causes of miscarriages of justice (organisational error): police oppression/ corruption; forensic errors, legal errors.
  4. The media and miscarriages of justice (fictional portrayals and investigative journalism)
  5. Campaigns and campaigners
  6. The appellate courts
  7. The Criminal Cases Review Commission
  8. Formal remedies (civil proceedings, pardon, compensation)
  9. Legacies of miscarriages of justice (individual and institutional)
  10. Conclusions


The unit aims to develop students' understanding of:

Different definitions of miscarriages of justice and their applications;

Causes of miscarriages of justice;

Different mechanisms for addressing these problems;

Responses to these cases at a range of levels from individual to institutional.

Learning outcomes


Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered by lectures and seminars.

Teaching and learning will be supported by resources made available on Blackboard.

Knowledge and understanding

Be familiar with the facts of seminal miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Understand the academic debate around the term 'miscarriage of justice' and the implications of the different uses of the term.

Understand the legislative framework for dealing with wrongful convictions

Understand the strengths and limitations of miscarriages of justice as a reform tool.

Intellectual skills

Research, analyse and communicate, in an informed and critical way, theoretical explanations and issues concerning miscarriages of justice.

Practical skills

To identify and obtain appropriate information from the library and online sources including case reports and scholarly research.

Discuss and evaluate important facts and perspectives in a clear and effective way.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Formulate and deliver an effective argument, in writing and verbally.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Verbal feedback in seminars.

Feedback in drop in weekly sessions

Written feedback on a practice essay.

Recommended reading

Barrister, The Secret. The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken.

London: Macmillan, 2018 (available as an e book from the library)

Robins, Jon. Guilty Until Proven Innocent the Crisis in Our Justice System. London: Biteback Publishing, 2018

Robins, J. (ed.) (2012) Wrongly Accused: Who is Responsible for Investigating Miscarriages of Justice? The Justice Gap 30-33. London: Wilmington. www. thejusticegap.com

If you are unfamiliar with how criminal cases are dealt with in this country you may find this website a useful starting point http://open.justice.gov.uk/home/

https://www.defence-barrister.co.uk/ this is a brilliant website with lots of information on it.

You can also watch films such as Just Mercy, Brian Banks Free, In the Name of the Father and 12 Angry Men.

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Claire McGourlay Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Open book examination online

This course is available to incoming study abroad students providing they have some knowledge of the law.
Pre-requisites: compulsory None

See Law School timetable

Content Notes (also known as trigger warnings or content warnings) are used to inform students of content that may be distressing to some individuals. This is done both to inform those individuals so that they might prepare themselves in advance but also so that other students can be supportive and sensitive to their peers. Content Notes are not used to constrain teaching or discussion of difficult, distressing or contentious topics but to enable students to responsibility for their course choices and learning preparation. It is not possible to predict all topics that may cause distress, but certain themes are widely accepted to merit content notes. This course is one of those courses that might cause distress to certain students. By its very nature, this course deals with issues of various CRIMINAL OFFENCES (E.G. MURDER, RAPE, SEXUAL ASSUALT, GBH) THROUGHOUT, this might be upsetting to certain students.

We encourage you to look at the contents of the course now and if you think you might struggle with some topics in the course, and want to see what a particular section discusses in order to decide whether you want to engage with these contents contact Claire or your academic advisor. The team are committed to ensuring that our teaching environments are safe spaces for discussing difficult and controversial topics.

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