In his latest blog for Infologue.com, Chris Cully, Managing Director for Dilitas Ltd discusses legal aid. Chris writes: “As many of you are aware, the last 12 months has seen increasing chaos and mayhem in the legal system, due to the swaging cuts on he legal system and judicial process, including legal aid, delivered by the Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary. The criminal law system is under enough pressure due to the ineptitude and incompetence of the Crown Prosecution System, an organisation that does nothing to serve the course of justice for the man and woman on the street.
“Thus, it is hardly surprising that these reasons, combined with police who have neither resources nor skills to investigate crime properley, are contributing to defendants not getting the legal support in courts that our society would expect and demand.
“A perfect example of such a situation is the case of Dwaine George, sentenced to a minimum of 12 years for murder, after a jury found him guilty of murder in 2002 following a gangland feud, in which he was identified as a group of teenagers, part of the Cheetham Hill gang in Manchester, who shot and killed teenager Daniel Dalein 2001.
“George maintained his innocence and claimed that he was eating at a friend’s house at the time of the murder. However, he was convicted and subsequently applied to appeal his conviction, which was turned down by the Court of Appeal in 2004.
“Having no normal route of appeal left open to him and no legal aid support, George wrote to the newly founded Innocence Network UK, a small group of linked British law schools that had been inspired by similar projects in the United States.
“Students from Cardiff Law School took on the case and over the next four years, they studied court papers and examined scientific papers while studying for their own law degrees. They visited George in prison and secured their own expert witness reports that questioned the confidence that the gun shot residue found on George’s clothes could be used to prove his guilt.
“Four years after they filed papers in the case, their confidence of Mr George’s innocence was vindicated. The Court of Appeal ruled that new scientific evidence about gunshot residue, found on a coat at Mr George’s Manchester home on his arrest in 2001, meant that his conviction was unsafe. In quashing the conviction, Judge Sir Brian Leveson said “We pay tribute to the work of the Innocence Project and Pro Bono Unit at Cardiff Law School, which took up the appellant’s case and pursued it so diligently.”
“The students that pursued this matter were always surprised that the case had even got to trial, let alone resulted in George’s conviction. This ruling was the first success for the Innocence Project and Cardiff University have left the project.
“This case has highlighted the potential of such a group as The Innocence Project and their ability to deliver high quality legal support to those whom the system has failed and to those whom have neither the resource nor capability to engage with the system to fight their corner and, ultimately, receive the justice they deserve and which should have clearly been provided to them at the beginning of their journey into the legal system.
“It would be an excellent step forward to see a group such as the Innocence Project, to receiving funding from philanthropic sources, who are keen to see justice correctly and safely delivered, thereby enabling the less well placed in society to get support and, for enthusiastic law students to achieve a level of experience not commonly associated with a law degree.
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