Alasdair Flett, one of our student volunteers, has recently published in the newsletter of the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic an interesting article, in which he discusses his experience working with MOJO.
We greatly value our close relationship with the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic and, in particular, its Criminal Justice Project. For several years now we have welcomed its students as casework volunteers. These students give generously, and tirelessly, of their time and effort in supporting our clients who seek to challenge their convictions. They bring to the table their legal training, their expertise, and their enthusiasm. In return, we enhance their education by teaching the specifics of the criminal law and procedure as they are experienced by the victims of miscarriage of justice. We offer a grounding in the causes of miscarriage of justice, and the possible remedies. And, above all, we broaden their horizons by providing in-depth, hands-on access to real life examples of the failure of our criminal justice system.
It’s a match made in heaven…
We reproduce Alasdair’s article, below:
Student Advisor, Alasdair Flett, continued volunteering for the Clinic and their Criminal Justice Project (CJP) throughout the summer. The CJP works alongside the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO) who provide training for the students. Up until summer the project had been carried out online, but during the summer and continuing into the new semester, students dedicate one day a week to attend the MOJO offices to carry out their work.
While the academic semester ended with exams and assignments in May this year, Law Clinic work carried on, and to my delight, just as Glasgow returned to life, with pubs opening up again and tentative summer plans being made, the brand-new Miscarriages of Justice Organisation office resumed its work in person.
After a year of remote learning, it has been a much-welcomed breath of fresh air to be back in an environment where it is possible to put a question to the room spontaneously or get instant feedback or clarification on a hypothesis before committing valuable research time.
That and, of course, the chance to meet people in the flesh who’d hitherto existed only as a rectangle on Zoom.
The recently renamed Criminal Justice Project is a branch of Law Clinic students who work closely with MOJO.
MOJO is an organisation with two main divisions: casework to overturn Scottish miscarriages of justice; and aftercare for former prisoners who have had their convictions quashed.
My interest in the work of the CJP was initially principally about the advanced criminal law training offered by MOJO’s in-house solicitor. This training included a thorough and comprehensive overview of criminal procedure in Scotland from arrest to interview, trial, prison and parole.
The detail was daunting and eye-opening in equal measure. Where the first-semester course in Criminal Law that all LLB students take is enough to spark an interest, it was, for me, only here where I appreciated what is at stake for society and the human consequences of how our justice system is run.
While the machinery and the principles are impressive and perhaps in some measure intimidating, you can only truly grasp how such attitudes and in-built biases (presumptions) of the system interact when you read the case files, and that is what volunteering for MOJO provides you access to in abundance.
Reading appellate judgements is a cornerstone of legal education. They will teach you how a judge thinks, what material is likely to impress and what can be dismissed i.e. legal relevancy. Judgements are the chapters of Ronald Dworkin’s chain novel that speaks with a single authorial voice. What you don’t get to see on West Law and Lexus Nexus is the cacophony of appendixes: draft material, notes, maps, timelines, interviews, drawings, phone calls, letters, emails, photographs, footage, newspaper cuttings, expert reports, medical records, lab results etc. etc.
To criminal lawyers immersed in them, that’s what a case is: not a post-it note maxim with a neat legal rule but an a-thousand-page file with one sentence’s contradiction that might turn a lost cause into a winnable appeal.
Finding that single slippage in the account or procedural irregularity may take several hours of indiscriminate trawling. This time is simply not compensated for by current legal aid levels and inevitably leads to a certain number of miscarriages of justice every year in Scotland.
It’s not an issue many people are aware of, and some may even accept it as a price worth paying to keep conviction rates high. Of course, innocent convicts are the collateral in this approach, which some may accept with a shrug and a no-smoke-without-fire mentality.
While only political intervention is likely to change the criminal justice system for the better, the work of MOJO can and does change the lives of individuals who are the personal victims of its errors. The wrongfully convicted, alongside the justly, are vilified by the press and society at large, and so MOJO’s work can often appear thankless. Yet, on an educational and human level, it is immensely beneficial.