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False confessions & Miscarriage of Justice article
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FALSE CONFESSIONS - Also see Part 1 & Part 2 & Part 4

False Confessions & Miscarriage of Justice
by Louise Ayr

Some legal experts and journalists have been sounding warnings, going back many years, that our British justice system is not how we used to think it was - at least if fortunately placed and confident of standing up for ourselves. As we dig deeper we find that being fortunate is apparently not some innate right that will leave us untouched by mistakes or practices that allow - or push through, errors or miscarriages of justice that are bigger than a London bus. What happened to those much touted human rights, ostensibly designed to protect citizens from over-vigilance or ineptitude by the State in which they live?

Having made their way through the legal system, these mistakes or miscarriages are not easily remedied - if victims feel that they can ever be properly remedied. One of the main problems is getting a case looked at again, even though there can already be evidence in the system that could quickly exonerate someone, or leave such huge doubt as to be unviable for accusation and conviction. Somehow information about evidence does not get through for people who need it.

Would that be ineptitude or sharp practice? Doesn't the legal system check? Do we not notice or care unless it happens to us? Why are things going backwards and not forwards?

Do we watch too much television - CSI, The FBI Files, fly-on-the-wall British cop programmes about hundreds of motorists and binge drinkers? We might prefer myriad reruns of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Frost, or whatever we feel comfortable with that makes sense or stretches our brains.


Evidence in itself can be controversial, as you'll see the more that you look and wonder. Like anything else it is easily affected by human attitudes and behaviour, not to mention 'spin'. It is nothing short of criminal to have excellent advanced technologies, yet allow them to atrophy, be misinterpreted without proper checks, or to get ignored or withheld from proceedings.

Some mishaps or interpretations of evidence are not random or meaningless. They seem to take the line of least resistance in the prompt direction of the person on whom they settle. Perhaps we should be looking at targetting as a significant part of the dynamic. Of course there can be mistakes. They are what the precautions in the system are meant to balance, as in scales of justice. Too often, they do not slow the plunge towards error, nor allow time for reflection over 'What if we could be wrong?'

All too often in argument it seems that, if there is a possible alternative explanation, reason is thrown out with the bathwater. Here it seems like undue weight upon the scales, increasing as doubt or reason attempts to enter.

There does not seem to be a devil's advocate procedure to test things through properly before getting too far. If this doesn't happen before court, one expects a useful adversarial approach during the hearing, and this can indeed happen. Something that may happen too, is an advocate so creative at engineering hypotheses that someone guilty walks free. How can that happen while other people are not even getting a fair chance?


People claiming they are innocent can face longer in jail than some who admit their guilt. If they do get free, often there is no compensation, apology or exoneration, so a cloud hangs over their heads including a risk of double jeopardy.

More care taken to ensure that the wrong person is not accused, charged and convicted, where it seems clear there should have been further investigation. Once people get out of prison following wrongful conviction, stringent efforts should be taken to ascertain what contributed to the situation, and who did commit the crime.

Michael Mansfield has written about his experiences as a QC, including many cases of wrongful conviction he has helped fight over the years. In 'Presumed Guilty: the British Legal System Exposed' written in 1993, he outlines a number of changes he feels would make our legal system work more fairly and effectively. Perhaps he has since modified some of those suggestions, which are well worth a read. They are many and far-reaching - We are not qualified to get into them deeply. But if people performed their tasks properly as one does to hold down a 'normal job', the legal system that we already have should work more reasonably. There should be sufficient integrity and balance to prevent a lot of wrongful things happening.

Sandra Lean studied a number of cases of miscarriage of justice, some of which she outlines in 'No Smoke: the Shocking Truth about British Justice'. Many other writers have come across cases, or cases have somehow sought them out, as bystanders, or as victims of injustice who had to turn into legal experts to fight their corner - not an easy thing to do from prison.


A common factor in a significant number of miscarriage of justice cases is that people may confess to things they have not done. It happens when faced with the stress of being asked lots of questions. They are probably scared, isolated from people they know, and away from normal surroundings. When confronted, people can feel disorientated and threatened - they just want the situation to end. Witnesses often give misleading accounts of what happened, for a number of natural reasons.

Even in normal situations, people tend to comply with what is suggested, or seems to be expected of them. If elements of bullying or constraint are added to the equation, all of us can behave differently. It may be implied to suspects or witnesses that they cannot leave or won't see their children if they don't sign a statement. There are provisions for access to legal representation which may be withheld, or the appointed lawyer has not the relevant experience, or any confidence in the person's innocence.

It may seem a big leap to the issue of torture during interrogation, but some psychological principles are similar, like tiring people out with hours of questioning, keeping them from people they know, maintaining control and frightening them into thinking there is no way out. Once we are emotionally and physically down, it is a hard, long haul back up again.

We are talking about things which could, and often should, have been unnecessary or avoidable:
Something where more insight and support are needed (and not more TV reruns!)




Click HERE for a Google search on False Confessions

'The Psychology of False Confessions' by Richard P Conti http://truth.boisestate.edu/jcaawp/9901/9901.pdf

'Psychology of False Confessions' notes by Dr Gisli Gudjonsson
See his book 'The Psychology of Interrogations, Confessions and Testimony'

'False Confessions' on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_confession

Listen to BBC's 'All in the Mind' programme on false confessions at www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/allinthemind_20061227.shtml

Article on lack of sleep and false confessions http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/1000157.stm

'Conformity to Social Norms' http://psypress.co.uk/smithandmackie/resources/topic.asp?topic=ch09-tp-01

ForeJustice Wrongful Convictions links worldwide including United Kingdom

Download free book in pdf format www.all-about-psychology.com/support-files/hugo-munsterberg-essays-on-psychology-and-crime.pdf

'The False Confession' by Alexandra Perina, Psychology Today www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200304/the-false-confession

'The Psychology and Power of False Confessions' by Ian Herbert www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=2590

'The Situation of False Confessions' http://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/the-situation-of-false-confessions/

'Coerced Confessions' by Terence Campbell www.campsych.com/cooerced.htm

'Why do Innocent People make False Confessions?' http://crime.about.com/od/issues/a/false.htm

'Wrongful Convictions Causes & Remedies' list from Duke Law Center www.law.duke.edu/ccjpr/resources/causes

Click HERE for a Google search on Eyewitness Testimony





lady of justice

Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI) Invites you to a Public Meeting

Sunday 7th November 2010 from 3:00 - 5:30pm

Prisoners claiming innocence: Dealing with wrongful convictions

The hurdles facing prisoners maintaining innocence will be explained and discussed and there will be plenty of time for questions.

Hall of St Mellitus Church, Tollington Park, London N4 3AG
Tube: Victoria or Piccadilly line to Finsbury Park, 5 minute walk up Fonthill Road to the corner of Tollington Park: Street map here . . . .

Refreshments provided. No advance tickets needed.
Meeting chaired by Dr. Kimmett Edgar, Head of Research, Prison Reform Trust

Speakers: Dr. Michael Naughton, Bristol University, Founder and Director, Innocence Network
Gabe Tan, head of casework, Innocence Network

Please contact Gabe Tan for further information http://www.bristol.ac.uk/law/news/2010/173.html

UAI United Against Injustice, National Federation of Miscarriage of Justice Campaign and Support Organisations
Miscarriage of Justice Day meeting in London: 9 October 2010 www.unitedagainstinjustice.org.uk

Also see www.innocent.org.uk, www.mojuk.org.uk, www.false-allegations.org.uk,
and Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence, PPMI, PO Box 3417, London WC1N 3XX, see event above


For articles about disclosure of evidence and other issues visit www.innocent.org.uk/misc/articles.html
Disclosure, Problems/Help Miscarriages of Justice, Prisoners who maintain their innocence, Forensic science, In prison

Visit www.innocent.org.uk/misc/cr_erzingclioglu_fss.html for an article on the unreliability of evidence, by Zakaria Erzinclioglu - Science and the law: A cause for concern

Books listed by Innocent are at www.innocent.org.uk/books/index.html where downloads are available for some out-of-print books

Visit the Links page at INUK - The Innocence Network UK - www.innocencenetwork.org.uk/links.htm

Visit Sandra Lean's Miscarriage of Justice site:
and see the final paragraph on her article 'No Defence':

'Innocence is no defence. In fact, being innocent is one of the biggest handicaps to the defence of an innocent person, because their ignorance of the system and how it works is used against them, time and time again.'


Sometimes people are convicted because they made a confession about something they simply did not do.

Eyewitnesses often don't see or remember clearly enough to be really sure.

Convictions should not be made solely on one type of evidence.

In cases of miscarriage of justice, other things may be 'made to fit' into a scenario which other people come to believe is what happened. The more we understand of possible reasons, the less it should actually happen.

If you know someone who is in prison, try to get some support for yourself too, or a friend to back you up


Revisit for updates

Part 1 Human Rights Resources, Campaigns
Part 2 Miscarriages of Justice Article & Books includes Joint Enterprise
Part 4 Problems with Evidence, Videos
Part 5 Prisoners, Families, Veterans, Mental Health, Vulnerable
Deaths in Custody Links

And see Scapegoating, ostracism, rejection;
Groups & Social Influence - social conformity, cults, beliefs, scams & hustles


Video 'Safety OnLine & Off - Young & Older'
Video 'Christmas - Season with a Pinch of Salt'

Video 'Let's Reduce Abuse'
Video 'Missing from Home/ Runaways'


Visit the False page at Whorls for links on:
False confessions, Eye witnesses; Miscarriages of Justice;
Allegations of abuse, Memories; Therapy Culture;
Finding Middle Ground, Mediation


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