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Law students bag first win for university pro bono projects as murder conviction is overturned

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High judicial praise for Cardiff’s Innocence Project in a case that also sees a “hot” barrister shoot back into the limelight

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Media references to lawyers tend to swing between “fat cats” and “legal aid cheats”, so it is encouraging to find widespread mainstream coverage today of a stunning victory for Cardiff University law students in overturning a long-standing miscarriage of justice.

The Court of Appeal yesterday overturned Dwaine George’s murder conviction of a dozen years ago, a result owed in large part to the hard graft of students and academics at Cardiff Law School’s Innocence Project.

George (pictured below) was convicted of murder when he was 18 and served 12 years in prison. When the Criminal Cases Review Commission initially referred his case to the Appeal Court, it praised the students’ work, saying the Innocence Project had “made a very significant contribution to the case”.

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The Cardiff University scheme was launched eight years ago and was one of the first three innocence projects in the UK. It involves law students — under the supervision of specialist practising lawyers — investigating cases of long-term prisoners that maintain their innocence of serious crimes for which they have been convicted.

George’s case was the first success for any UK university innocence project.

Some 30 present and past students joined law school academics Julie Price and Dennis Eady — who jointly run the Cardiff project — yesterday at London’s Royal Courts of to hear the ruling.

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The judgment — handed down by Appeal Court chairman Sir Brian Leveson — said:

“In addition to expressing our gratitude to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, 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.”

Caitlin Gallagher, who worked on the case as a student and on the appeal as a trainee solicitor, commented:

“Dwaine inspired the team at Cardiff Law School to join his long journey to clear his name through a scheme that doesn’t just educate, but enthuses and assists students to pursue a career in criminal law.”

Professor Price added:

“For Cardiff Law School Innocence Project, and other university projects working on alleged wrongful conviction cases, this is a significant day. It demonstrates that universities are about more than research, and can show public impact from innovative teaching and learning.”

She went on to describe the result has a “collaborative effort” and pointed to significant problems around the criminal appeals process.

“Just look at how long it’s taken with this case, and this is the first of its kind,” said Price. “There are many meritorious cases that will not be overturned as the law currently stands.”

She claimed that:

“Miscarriages of justice attract little political and public interest, and with the attack on legal aid, the problem is going to get worse. University projects are a sticking plaster only and cannot replace a properly funded legal aid system.”

Speaking after the ruling, George also heaped praise on the students. Today I have got the result I wanted,” he said.

“I have lost a lot of my life that I can’t get back, but I just want to get on with my life now. I hope the Cardiff Innocence Project will get all the recognition it deserves for this. I want to thank all those who helped me — the students and staff at Cardiff, my solicitor David McCorkle, James Wood QC and Tunde Okewale from Doughty Street Chambers”.

Indeed, Okewale’s involvement gave the story an added media boost. Several weeks ago, style bible GQ named the seven-year-call junior as one of the coolest chaps in Britain. He also came near the top of this year’s Hottie Barrister List.

READ THE JUDGMENT IN FULL:

Dwaine George

6 Comments

Dave

As earnest, campaigning lawyers we must criticise any pro bono initiative lest it jeopardise the provision of legal aid.

(2)(9)

Not Amused

“As earnest, campaigning lawyers we must criticise any pro bono initiative lest it jeopardise the provision of legal aid”

I agree. (although I expect you were in fact mocking me, I have chosen to ignore that)

Generally in society we need to be suspicious of the role of state versus the role of charity. Walk to Waterloo and you’ll see the hospital for women and children once upon a time supported by charitable donation – not now and for good reason.

We should always be aware that the way our society is run is a question of choice. We should not let bad things start to happen merely because we are unaware of them or because we are lulled in to a false sense of security.

In Britain, in the 21st Century I don’t want to see medicine or justice dispensed by the capricious hand of charity. I have expectations of the state and I encourage you to join me.

(8)(6)

KillTheOwl

The trouble is, NA, that the legal system is an easy target for politicians seeking to cut public expenditure, assisted by the media because they do not expect that the voting and newspaper-reading public will care at all that a few lawyers cannot keep their gravy train on its tracks.

In an ideal world, legal aid cuts would not have occurred and we would still have a reasonably comprehensive system of state provision of legal services. But we do not, and until politicians stop acting in such a cynical way towards the legal system and voters start caring enough, pro bono assistance is better than no assistance.

Congratulations to all those who worked hard on this case at Cardiff.

(4)(0)

Sammy

As a Cardiff Law Student myself, and one that has applied to be part of the Innocence Project team from January, I have to say I disagree with the above.

To try and politicise the point and make it about Legal Aid when this is in reality about campaigning for innocence is a big mistake.
Any lawyer could have taken Dwaine’s case and likely got the same result. They decided not to and have therefore missed the opportunity which was left to unqualified Law Student volunteers. We get 6 weeks of training (thanks to the great staff) and are then sent to do the actual work from January in our own time.

Lawyers shouldn’t be taking the case based on whether they get paid what they deem is enough (in this world where many people have had to take pay cuts and freezes), they are providing a service, not asking for payment..

(9)(10)

Chris Grayling

Need I say anymore?

(11)(2)

PAS

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion enwogion o fri
Ei gwrol ryfelwr, gwlad garwyr tra mad
Tros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.

(0)(1)

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