NUI Galway Innocence Clinic to review Maamtrasna and set up database of wrongful convictions

In its very first workshop, the law, journalism and human rights students of the newly-launched NUIG Innocence Clinic this week observed the 5th Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day with a minute of silence to remember the hundreds of thousands of innocent people still awaiting justice worldwide.

International Wrongful Conviction Day was established on 2 October 2013 as an effort of the Innocence Network, an affiliation, based in New York, of organisations worldwide that are providing pro bono legal and investigative services to people seeking to prove their innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted. Innocence and human rights organisations around the world plan special programmes on that day ranging from screening topical films to offering public talks in order to increase awareness of wrongful convictions. Research suggests it is likely that between 2.3 and 10 percent of all convictions are of innocent people.

The NUIG Innocence Clinic is a fledgling initiative launched with the cooperation of the law, journalism and human rights centre at NUIG under the guidance of Anne Driscoll, a visiting US Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist.

First semester, she will be teaching students about wrongful convictions, how they happen and why, as well as using journalism techniques and skills to investigate wrongful conviction cases. Second semester, the students will be using those skills to review the Maamtrasna murders case.

Myles Joyce, who was wrongfully convicted and hanged in 1882, received the second posthumous presidential pardon in Irish history by President Michael D. Higgins this year. Students will be looking at the claims of innocence made by four other men in connection with the case. Students will also be working to establish the Irish National Registry of Exonerations, an online interactive database of wrongful convictions in Ireland similar to the National Registry of Exonerations in America.

“This is the first time this opportunity has been offered at NUIG and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the level of interest on behalf of students in this issue has been completely unanticipated and heartening - we have 75 students who have signed on. And it is so fitting that our first workshop happens to take place on what is the Fifth Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day,” said Anne Driscoll, who has previously been a US Fulbright scholar and project manager of the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College and the senior reporter at the Justice Brandeis Law Project of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

“We in the School of Law are delighted to host Fulbright Scholar Anne Driscoll and to help promote her inspiring public interest work on wrongful convictions. Having our students centrally involved in the various projects Anne is leading presents an extraordinary opportunity for them and is an exciting addition to our clinical legal education programme and focus on practical skill development,” said Larry Donnelly, Lecturer and Director of Clinical Legal Education. Final year BCL and LLB law students are eligible to earn academic credit for their involvement in the NUIG Innocence Clinic.

There are 68 innocence projects recognized by the Innocence Network and only two - the Montana Innocence Project and the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College – has had law and journalism students working collaboratively on cases. The NUIG Innocence Clinic will use the same interdisciplinary approach.

“Anne Driscoll’s research provides journalism students with a unique opportunity to develop the skills and insights that will inform their work as professionals in the future, covering human rights and creating social change,” says Bernadette O’Sullivan, who teaches Media Ethics and Regulation in the NUIG journalism department. “This collaboration is an important step towards, “making a difference in the world”, as Ms Driscoll says, “o

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