Exploring experiences of miscarriages of justice
  The proposed research will explore victims’ experiences of miscarriages of justice. It will investigate the narratives that individuals who have been wrongfully imprisoned have to share about their lives prior to incarceration, their experiences of Scottish Criminal Justice System and the impacts of these experiences on their lives after miscarriages of justice.
Despite growing sophistication of legal systems in the UK, for many the experience of wrongful conviction remains an ongoing reality. The Scottish Government report that, in 2008-9, 5% of appeals against conviction were upheld. This equals 120 people proven, in that year, to be wrongfully imprisoned in Scotland alone. As cases require clear evidence that a miscarriage of justice has occurred in order to be referred, the true number of miscarriages of justice is likely to be considerably greater.
The proposed exploratory research will build on research that has identified shortcomings in support after release from prison (Grounds, 2004, 2005), but - through a programme of interviews with victims of miscarriages of justice - address their largely neglected experiences. The wrongfully convicted often experience deterioration in their physical and mental health – many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, and other mood disorders (Wildeman, Costelloe & Schehr, 2011). There is frequently breakdown in social relationships including with friends and loved ones (Grounds, 2004, 2005). Many lose their place in society and as a result their identity (Coleman, 1988). In particular, they may find it difficult to (re)establish relationships with their children, whom for many they have missed key milestones and life events (Hoyle & Tilt, 2018). Insight into where negative effects start to occur will enable identification of where support is required to mitigate these effects.
Unemployment is a significant problem for the wrongfully-convicted: two-thirds are unemployed post-release compared to a quarter who were unemployed prior to incarceration. Maintaining their innocence whilst imprisoned makes them ineligible for access to prison support services and courses offered to those ‘rightfully’ convicted. After release, there is inadequate support from the state both for practical and psychological ill-effects. There is no longer automatic or statutory compensation (since 2013) meaning that financial hardship and homelessness are common (Hoyle & Tilt, 2018). Support is provided only via charities such as the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO) in Scotland and the Miscarriage of Justice Support Service (MJSS) in England and Wales.
Miscarriages of justice may arise from inadequate defence, poor forensic science, mistaken eyewitness testimony, official wrongdoing, and false confessions (Wildeman et al., 2011). Individual vulnerabilities and systematic biases increase the likelihood of a wrongful conviction. For example, previous involvement in criminal activity may lead to confirmation bias in an investigation, resulting in exculpatory evidence being overlooked, or erroneous interpretation of forensic evidence (Dror & Bucht, 2011); false confessions are increasingly likely from individuals with intellectual impairments or personality characteristics such as suggestibility, particularly where coercive interviewing techniques have been used (Gudjonsson, 1992); and implicit bias towards marginalised groups such as the homeless or those suffering with mental illness potentially impacts upon the course of justice at all levels, and including those working in the Criminal Justice System and members of the public who may be eyewitnesses or jurors in a case. Interviews will explore individual vulnerability (including environmental) factors that may have contributed to their wrongful conviction. This project will broadly enhance our understanding of vulnerability to miscarriages of justice and how these vulnerabilities affect how the person experiences life before, during, and beyond incarceration.
Interview data will also inform development of a survey, to be distributed to victims of miscarriages of justice across the UK. This will provide a ‘bigger picture’ view of victims’ experiences and allow for better understanding of their requirements throughout the process and development of targeted support. Only development of the survey falls within the scope of this project: we intend that survey data collection and analysis will form part of a large-scale follow-up funding bid to the Leverhulme Trust.

1. To explore participants’ experiences of their miscarriage of justice
2. To identify individual factors in participants’ lives which may have made them vulnerable to a miscarriage of justice
3. To identify points at which participants started to experience known negative consequences of miscarriages of justice
4. To develop a survey for MOJO to distribute to victims of miscarriages of justice in the UK.
5. To provide a basis for a funding bid for a large-scale multi-methods project. This will include victims of miscarriages of justice from Scotland and beyond, family members, those working within the Criminal Justice System and those working in relevant charities and support groups. It will also involve a longitudinal element, following up participants from this current study.

  • Start Date:

    1 August 2019

  • End Date:

    31 January 2023

  • Activity Type:

    Externally Funded Research

  • Funder:

    British Academy

  • Value:


Project Team