Every wrong conviction is a human tragedy


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I have been practising criminal appeal work for more than 25 years. This is a Cinderella world, populated by a ragbag collection of committed but overworked, financially reckless lawyers, inexperienced but well-meaning students from university-based Innocence projects, journalists and single-issue campaigners.

If you suffer a wrongful conviction in this country your chances of persuading one or more of these to help take up your case from your prison cell is a daunting and often impossible task. Only a handful succeed. The Criminal Cases Review Commission is vital in rectifying miscarriages. but I regret that little or no effort is put into avoiding such errors in the first place. The cost to tax-payers of wrongful incarceration is great, and public confidence in the system is diminished with each case that comes to light.

In almost every area of public life when a system failure occurs, there is some strategy for learning lessons. Uniquely and incredibly the criminal justice system appears unwilling, unable or is not required to carry out the same exercise. Miscarriages must never involve simple assessments of profit or loss. Each and every case is a human tragedy.

Trying to explain to a victim or his family and friends that they face an almost impossible task in overturning a conviction is professionally the most difficult thing I have to do. We must do more to avoid errors of justice.