Systemic Bias Against Prisoners Who Maintain Innocence

Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI)

Some 60 people met at the House of Commons on 10th December to review the problems faced by wrongly convicted prisoners, ex-prisoners maintaining innocence, and their families. Highlight of the meeting was a vigorous discussion about how best to improve the efforts made to recognise their situation in jail, and after release, and how to improve attitudes in the legal profession.

The meeting was attended by solicitors and other legal professionals working in the field, and representatives of groups campaigning for justice for wrongly convicted prisoners, ex-prisoners maintaining innocence and the families of prisoners. 

The meeting opened with four presentations by Dean Kingham (Parole Board lead solicitor for the Association of Prison Lawyers), Dr. Ruth Tully (a forensic psychologist specialising in the field) and two ex-prisoners who had each served a decades-long prison sentence while continuing to maintain innocence. 

A lengthy and robust discussion followed.  The many difficult issues raised included -

  • the patronising indifference of the legal and prison systems to the claims of innocence from convicted prisoners
  • the assumption that every conviction is correct in fact as well as in law
  • the specific penalties inflicted on prisoners for denying guilt, including longer sentences
  • the huge problems prisoners claiming innocence have coping with frustration
  • the need for prison psychologists to accept that some prisoners have been wrongly convicted, and respond accordingly
  • the failure of the system to recognise that there are a significant number of individuals in prison whom are innocent and were wrongly convicted
  • the expensive pointlessness of the CCRC which refuses to investigate possible miscarriages, and claims it cannot do so
  • the dire shortage of legal aid after conviction
  • the failure of the legal system to disclose unused evidence to prisoners.

The meeting concluded that the undeniable evidence of systemic bias against prisoners who maintain innocence needed serious attention at the highest level.

A question posed to Dean Kingham was whether the Parole Board was fit for purpose? He gave a robust talk indicating the faults within our system primarily rest with the Justice Minister, the Ministry of Justice and Parliament. He gave a number of pertinent examples.

Without any specific or justifiable reason, spending years more in prison after expiry of the sentence was vigorously condemned. Furthermore, the consequences of wrongful convictions had proven costly to the public purse, and to the individuals and their families – an aspect of wrongful convictions which ought to concern all tax-payers.

The consensus view of the meeting was the need to address these issues seriously, and at the highest legal and political levels. Such executive action was long overdue.

The meeting was organized by ‘Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence’

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