Oration for Professor Bryan Stevenson on the occasion of his receipt of an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Bristol in July 2018

By Dr Devyani Prabhat, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

In July 2018, the University of Bristol awarded a Doctorate of Law honoris causa to Professor Bryan Stevenson.

Dr Devyani Prabhat had the honour of writing and delivering the Oration for Professor Stevenson. In her Oration, Dr Prabhat stresses the incredible and inspiring work of Professor Stevenson, and in particular his Equal Justice Initiative. Professor Stevenson delivered a very inspiring speech where he fleshed out his view of the ways in which recent law graduates, and all lawyers more generally, can make a meaningful contribution towards social justice. Prof Stevenson’s speech is available online. His acclaimed book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption also offers gripping and extremely thought-provoking insights.

The full text of Dr Prabhat’s oration is now reproduced here as a token of the values that the University of Bristol Law School, as a community, strives to foster. (more…)

Why the current DPP must be replaced with immediate effect and a royal commission on disclosure is urgently needed [with postscript]

By Dr Michael Naughton, Reader in Sociology and Law (University of Bristol Law School and  School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS)).

Last Thursday (18 January 2018), the Director of Public Prosecutors (DDP), Alison Saunders, made the remarkable statement on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that ‘no innocent people are in prison because of failures to disclose vital evidence, despite admitting there is a “systemic issue”.

Whatever her precise intentions, there is little doubt that the most senior prosecutor in England and Wales’s wilful refusal to acknowledge the reality of miscarriages of justice and that innocent people can be and are wrongly convicted and imprisoned only stoked the burgeoning crisis in the existing disclosure regime that governs alleged criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Variously described as ‘ill informed’, ‘complacent’ and ‘part of the current problem’, in this blog I critically evaluate the DPP’s statement in the context of her duties under the terms of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the perennial problem of miscarriages of justice and wrongful imprisonment in England and Wales.

Moreover, in the context of a growing lack of confidence in the DPP and the disclosure regime in alleged criminal investigations and prosecutions, I will make the case that the DPP should be immediately replaced and for governmental intervention in the form of a royal commission to get to the heart of the apparent problems and devise solutions to fix a system that is clearly broken and in urgent need of repair. (more…)

Advising vulnerable young people

By Mr John Peake, Director of the Law Clinic (University of Bristol Law School).

© David McKelvey

Kate Aubrey-Johnson writes that vulnerable children are not impressed by barristers’ textbooks. But then who would be. Certainly not the majority of young people who are drawn into the criminal justice world.

But the points she makes about the need for youth advocates to be specially trained and equipped with the communication skills needed to engage with vulnerable young people are as valid when advising the majority of young people as when representing those young people who are brought into the youth justice system.

For the first few months of my time as Director of the University of Bristol Law Clinic we were running drop in sessions initially with Creative Youth Network and then in conjunction with Kids Company. Both of these sessions operated from premises in Silver Street in the centre of Bristol but there was a marked disparity between take up. In the three months we were running sessions through Creative Youth we maybe saw two people. In contrast we would normally see at least two young people at each of the weekly Kids Company sessions. Some of the Kids Company young people continue to receive help from the Clinic. So why the difference?  (more…)

Panorama: Behind Bars: Prison Undercover

By Dr Michael Naughton, Reader in Sociology and Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The BBC Panorama programme, Behind Bars: Prison Undercover, aired on Monday 13 February 2017. Culled from footage from an undercover reporter in HMP Northumberland, it claimed to “reveal the reality of life behind bars in Britain’s crisis-hit prison system.”

Leaving aside the obvious methodological issues with such a claim, i.e. that such a generalisation cannot be made from a few insights in a single, adult, male, category C, private prison, what we got, instead, was an entirely biased, one-sided view. On this occasion, it was the fears of clearly overworked and overwhelmed prison staff that was the central focus of concern. The narrative depicted was simplistic: prisoners are both out of control and in control of the day to day running of prisons, supported by images of drug taking, drunken and abusive prisoners. A strong case was being made for more prison officers, which is totally justified in the context of overcrowded prisons and savage cuts to prison staff.

A major problem was that this was at the expense of a more balanced programme that took account, also, of the prisoner side of the story – the desolation, monotony and periods of sheer terror of everyday life behind prison bars. This is well documented in the research and it might, also, go some way, at least, to contextualising and/or explaining the images of the relatively small handful of misbehaving prisoners that were selected to persuade viewers to accept the underpinning narrative without question. (more…)

Righting the Injustices of the Past: The Case of Alice Wheeldon

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).

Right – left: Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason, Hettie Wheeldon and a guard, taken when on remand in 1917. © Alice Wheeldon Campaign.

History matters in the context of criminal justice; it matters that our criminal justice system lives up to standards of justice and upholds due process in respect of the past. The strength of support for this view is, for example, shown in the successful campaign to pardon men executed by British Forces during the First World War (the Shot at Dawn campaign).

Miscarriages of justice cases, such as those of the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, also illustrate the importance of righting the wrongs of the past when it comes to crime. One hundred years ago today another such injustice occurred and efforts are now being made to right this wrong.

At the Old Bailey on March 10th 1917 Alice Wheeldon, her daughter, Winnie Mason, and her son-in-law, Alf Mason, were convicted of conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George along with the leader of the Labour Party Arthur Henderson and other persons unspecified. Alice was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude, with Alf receiving 7 years and Winnie 5. Their efforts to appeal were rejected and so they were sent to prison. Alice went on hunger strike, was released early due to ill-health but died of influenza in 1919. Alf and Winnie were released unexpectedly at the end of the war. (more…)