RMIT students are working with the Bridge of Hope Foundation to identify and hopefully overturn cases of wrongful conviction in Victoria’s justice system, through a new innocence program.
The Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative at RMIT enables students to review cases where a person may have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and assist in pursuing these if there is sufficient evidence.
The initiative, which is a joint venture between RMIT and The Bridge of Hope Foundation, is open to undergraduate, honours and postgraduate students who want to make a positive difference.
Dr Michele Ruyters, Deputy Dean of Justice and Legal Studies, said that students engage in life changing experiences through the program.
“The initiative provides opportunities for students to collaborate with industry professionals and think critically about their practice,” she said.
“From the outset, students have access to detailed case files that include materials from police investigations, medical records, courts documents and expert evidence.
“Under academic and industry supervision, they learn the process of case breakdown and analysis, case management procedures, how to apply particular analytics to case investigations, and manage communications with industry and applicants as well as the experience of working in teams.”
As part of the initiative, leading Victorian criminal justice experts recently gathered at an RMIT forum to explore issues surrounding the miscarriage of justice.
The forum discussed the steps that can be taken to reduce flaws in the criminal justice system, as well as better react in cases of wrongful conviction.
Panellists included Kimani Boden, a partner at Starnet Legal, who successfully represented Farah Jama, who was wrongfully convicted of rape in July 2008 on the basis of contaminated DNA evidence. Jama was acquitted after serving 18 months of his six year sentence.
The panel emphasised how devastating the consequences of wrongful conviction can be.
“In the criminal justice system, there is no room for laziness… someone’s future depends on it,” Boden said.
Other panellists included Victorian Law Reform Commissioner, Frank Vincent; Senior Research and Development Officer at the Office of the Chief Forensic Scientist, Victoria Police Forensic Services Department, Dr Kaye Ballantyne; Principal of Stary Norton Halphen Criminal Law Specialists, Robert Stary; and lawyer, producer, author and advisor on Aboriginal Justice and Human Rights, Julie Buxton.
Story: Emma Morgan