Four out of 10 miscarriages of justice have involved unreliable witness testimony and one in four a false or unreliable confession, according to a new database of information about convictions overturned in the UK from 1970 which went live this week.
The University of Exeter’s law school has launched its online Miscarriages of Justice Registry, the most comprehensive database to date, featuring information about people whose criminal convictions have been quashed because of problems with evidence or the interpretation of evidence at their trial. Many of these people spent years in custody before their convictions were quashed.
The searchable database currently so far contains details of 346 cases which are classified according to the cause of the miscarriage of justice, the offence involved and the relevant jurisdiction.
According to these classifications, 143 miscarriages (41%) involved unreliable witness testimony, 91 (26%) involved a false or unreliable confession, 75 (22%) involved false or misleading forensic science, and 73 (21%) involved inadequate disclosure.
You can find information on individual cases and also underlying issues that cause wrongful convictions. The site is aimed at researchers and the wrongly convicted. The project is hosted by the university’s evidence-based justice lab and overseen by Dr Rebecca Helm, senior law lecturer and clinic solicitor at the university. The Justice Gap is a project partner.
‘When people discuss miscarriages of justice in the UK, they often refer to famous cases such as the cases of the Guildford 4 or Birmingham Six,’ said Helm. ‘However, these cases represent the tip of the iceberg and miscarriages of justice still occur quite frequently. Using data from existing miscarriages of justice is important in identifying problems with evidence evaluation, and in protecting those interacting with the criminal justice system in the future.’
The database is searchable and so, for example, you can explore:
- Decisions to admit guilt in the criminal justice system.
- The evaluation of witness testimony.
- Legislation and policy to enhance public health and human rights aims.
- Expertise and decision-making in forensic science.
- Law and technology and the operation of online justice.