The innocence projects, as defined by Holly Greenwood in her book, are university based student clinics, where students carry out the investigations into potential miscarriages of justice cases. Established just in 1992 by Barry Shneck and Peter Neufield in Yeshiwa Law school, New York, the first innocence project has led to the emergence of the whole network of similar projects across the US. Aimed to assist wrongly convicted prisoners, the organisation gained support in many countries outside the US, and over the last two decades we could see it take roots in Canada, Netherlands, Australia and UK. This essay is going to explore the rationale behind the innocence projects in The United Kingdom and analyse their role in the criminal appeals process.
The emergence and development of Innocence projects in England and Wales.
The first Innocence project in the UK has been established in the University of Bristol in 2004 by Michael Naughton, who is also responsible for founding the Innocence Network UK the same year. He established it with the aim to improve the criminal justice system by overturning the wrongful convictions to innocent people and creating the reforms which would prevent wrongful convictions from appearing in the future. INUK was the basis of innocence projects in the UK, it provided the memberships to various universities, offered training for prospective law students and set out the standardised protocols for innocence projects across the country. It served as a contact point for the prisoners who requested the reviews of their cases and managed the requests database, determining their eligibility for review and referring them to the member universities.
However, in 2014 it was announced that the Network was going to cease to exist due to the problems with funding, inability to ensure that all the member universities follow the protocols and lack of cases that actually met the criteria for review. What this meant for the member universities is that from that point on, every single project would have to operate independently. Since they could no longer be the members of the International Innocence Project Network through INUK, the universities would have to satisfy the criteria set out by international network in order to continue to use the trademarked ‘Innocence Project’ name.
The criterion required for the institutions to spend at least 20 hours per week or at least one faculty member’s time to supervise students on clinical work an oversee the program. 
The majority of the projects had to change their names in order to avoid copyright claims, due to the inability to fulfil this condition. This effectively left only a handful of innocence projects in UK. These projects evaluate the wrongful convictions and search for the possible exonerating evidence. They provide a pro-bono assistance to the wrongly convicted prisoners, while also action as an educational tool for future lawyers.
However, even before the Innocence Projects came into UK, there had already been a branch in the British criminal appeal system that dealt with wrongful convictions.
The UK Appeal system and the role of CCRC
The law in the UK has only been interested in the issue of criminal appeals for about a hundred years. The Parliament has first recognised the issues in the appeal process in 1907 in the case of Adolf Beck, who has been wrongly convicted on the basis of mistaken eyewitness testimony. This case became a starting point for the appeal framework in England and Wales and led to creation of the Criminal Appeal Act 1907. Under this act the verdict of the jury could be set aside if the appeal judges found it to be unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence. Though it was considered a step forward from the past, the approach attracted quite a lot of criticism, mainly for undermining the confidence in the criminal justice system. Sixty years later came the next big change in the form of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, which created Criminal Division of Court of Appeal. After that point and up until 1995, the power to refer cases to the court of appeal was in the hands of the Home Secretary, who could do so “if he thinks fit” and order reinvestigations into cases. There were quite a few problems associated with this system, and some of the complaints and calls for change were recorded in as early as 1970s. It was in the cases of Guildford Four and Birmingham Six that these changes would finally come from. After these trials, The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice recommended for a new body to be set up in order to deal with potential miscarriages of justice. This recommendation was approved by the government and served as a catalyst for the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.
The Criminal Appeal Act served as a Starting point for the CCRC, which began operating two years after the enactment of the legislation. The reason behind the establishment of this organisation was distancing the body reviewing the appeals from the executive. Passing the review function from the Home Secretary onto the CCRC became the beginning of a new, more restrictive era in the appeal system. Now, provided with the ‘real possibility test’ in the section 13 of the Act, reviews no longer depended on the subjective opinion of the Home Secretary. It would be wrong, however, to say the system had taken on a completely objective approach. The ‘real possibility’ still must arise from the evidence that was not raised during trial or from ‘exceptional circumstances’ which are decided on a case by case basis.
The CCRC uses its own resources and expertise in order to investigate cases. It can obtain materials from public bodies, commission expert reports and require the appointment of an investigating officer as well as assigning Case Review Managers. At the end of every review commissions make a decision on whether a particular case should be referred to the Court of Appeal. A single Commissioner is able to decide not to refer a case, but it take three Commissioners to approve a referral.
Naughton saw the real possibility test as unnecessary restrictive and was very critical of the operation of CCRC in general. He was concerned with the possibility of cases being referred for appeal solely because of procedural errors, regardless of whether or not there is a strong evidence of guilt and that the restrictions posed by statute on the commission may prevent them from referring factually innocent victims to the Court of Appeal. This has become an incentive for the development of innocence projects in the UK.
The position of Innocence projects in the appeal process
Traditionally, the innocence projects have held the position of the proverbial last resort in the appeal process. Individuals would only turn to these organisations after their direct appeal had been rejected or their case had been turned down by either the CCRC or the Court of Appeal.
Although it may initially seem that both CCRC and Innocence project are concerned with the innocence of the wrongly convicted (which is true to some extent), the information provide above helps to draw some distinct differences in the approaches of the two.
The problem the innocence projects are faced with in these cases is persuading the CCRC to take on a case based solely on the factual innocence. This is due to the fact that CCRC expressly state that they ‘do not consider innocence or guilt, but whether there is new evidence or argument that may cast doubt on the safety of an original decision’. The court of appeal is only able to quash the convictions that are unsafe, thus restricting the CCRC to referring only cases, where there is a real possibility for an unsafe conviction. This, seemingly, leaves us with two different perceptions of innocence. Innocence in its purest and simplest form: a person is innocent if they did not commit the crime. And innocence as a concept in the modern legal framework. The latter is much more complex and less straightforward. A person may be found innocent in the criminal justice system, if there were procedural or legal errors made in handling their case. So, a person, in theory, could be found innocent if they have committed the crime, but the evidence used against them was severely mishandled. This, though still falling under the category of wrongful convictions, would not be understood as such by a regular person outside the legal framework. There is a vast difference in the way innocence is viewed by the public and media and the way it is outlined in the legal system
However, as was demonstrated by Lord Steyn in R v Secretary of State for The Home Department, the fresh evidence could expressly or impliedly suggest innocence. In fact, as a result of the statutory test the CCRC adhere to, many referrals are based on the fresh evidence. Even though the cases are referred on the basis of convictions being unsafe and not on the presumption that the applicant is actually innocent, it could be argued that another interpretation of an unsafe conviction is a conviction of a factually innocent person. Thus, making it possible for the projects to find new evidence expressly or impliedly innocence, that CCRC can actually refer on the basis of unsafe conviction.
Although both perform very similar functions, the Innocence projects and CCRC concern two different aspects of the appeal process. This ensures that they do not interfere with each other and are for the most part compatible. Although the projects may often experience clashes with the commission, it is important to recognise the value of an establishment created to ensure the procedural and legal guidelines in convictions are followed and enforced. The innocence projects may have a less dry approach to wrongful convictions, looking instead at the factual innocence of the person, which is extremely beneficial for functioning of the criminal system in the UK, but they would not be able to handle the sheer volume of the review applications on their own. Whereas, the CCRC is able to handle this influx. However, where the justice is concerned, Innocence projects play an invaluable role in ensuring that innocent people don’t have their lives ruined on the account of not being able to show procedural errors in their case. So, the projects’ role in the appeal system should not go unnoticed. It is important to recognise, that both organisations exist in a more of a symbiosis rather than a competition; and each of them ensures for a balanced legal system.
Table of legislation
Criminal Appeal Act 1907
Criminal Appeal Act 1968
Criminal Appeal Act 1995
Table of cases
R (on the application of Mullen) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  1 AC 1
Devlin Report, Departmental Committee On Evidence of Identification in Criminal Cases, HC 338 (1976); Sixth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 1981–1982, Miscarriages of Justice (HC 421), paras 24–27; JUSTICE, Miscarriages of Justice (London, 1989); Independent Civil Liberty Panel on Criminal Justice, Civil Liberties Trust, (1993)
Greenwood H., Innocence Projects: Losing their Appeal? (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2018) 141
Innocencenetworkorg, ’Network Criteria’ (The Innocence Network, 25 April 2007)<http://www.innocencenetwork.org> accessed 3 January 2019
Naughton M., McCatney C., ’Innocence Projects in The UK: The Story So Far’  40(1) The Law Teacher 74
Roberts S, Weathered L, ’Assisting the Factually Innocent: The Contradictions and Compatibility of Innocence Projects and the Criminal Cases Review Commission’  29(1) Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 43-70
Sweeney N C ‘Adolf Beck: the ghost of justice’ (2006) 170 JP 150
 Holly Greenwood, Innocence Projects: Losing their Appeal? (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2018) 141
 ibid 147
 Innocencenetworkorg, ’Network Criteria’ (The Innocence Network, 25 April 2007)<http://www.innocencenetwork.org> accessed 3 January 2019
 N C Sweeney ‘Adolf Beck: the ghost of justice’ (2006) 170 JP 150
 Criminal Appeal Act 1907
 Criminal Appeal Act 1968
 Devlin Report, Departmental Committee On Evidence of Identification in Criminal Cases, HC 338 (1976); Sixth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 1981–1982, Miscarriages of Justice (HC 421), paras 24–27; JUSTICE, Miscarriages of Justice (London, 1989); Independent Civil Liberty Panel on Criminal Justice, Civil Liberties Trust, (1993)
 Report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (Chair: Lord Runciman) Cmnd 2263 (1993).
 Criminal Appeal Act 1995, s 13(1)(a)
 Stephanie Roberts and Lynne Weathered, ’Assisting the Factually Innocent: The Contradictions and Compatibility of Innocence Projects and the Criminal Cases Review Commission’  29(1) Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 43-70
 Michael Naughton and Carole Mccartney, ’Innocence Projects in The UK: The Story So Far’  40(1) The Law Teacher 74
 Stephanie Roberts and Lynne Weathered (n 10)
 R (on the application of Mullen) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  1 AC 1