Griffith University’s Innocence Project has a new team of legal eagles ready to continue fighting miscarriages of justice.
The collaborative pro bono project brings together lawyers, academics and law students to work on freeing people who have been wrongly convicted in Australia.
It is part of a global legal network. The Gold-Coast based chapter was founded through Griffith Law School in 2001.
Dr Robyn Blewer recently took the reins from founding director Lynne Weathered as the program approaches its third decade.
“I was actually one of the first students to be part of the Innocence Project at Griffith many years ago,” she said.
“I loved the work and to come back and lead the team is a privilege.”
Dr Blewer has assembled a new team of instructing lawyers, including prominent Gold Coast legal professionals Ron Behlau, Erin Mitchell, Danielle Hanson, Jonathan Nyst and Alex Somers. Jason Murakami remains on board as the project’s foundation instructing lawyer.
Each of the professional mentors is a Griffith University law graduate, and also part of the Innocence Project during their studies.
“There’s real enthusiasm among the new lawyers, particularly given their shared history with the Innocence Project as students,” Dr Blewer said.
Griffith Law School alumnus and Innocence Project instructing lawyer Ron Behlau said it had helped change Australia’s legal culture.
“You learn that the system isn’t perfect, and that miscarriages of justice can occur,” he said.
“The Innocence Project also advocates for law reform. The Queensland Government adopted new DNA post-conviction testing guidelines based on the work done by the project’s founders Lynn Weathered and Jason Murakami.”
Ron said his experience with the Innocence Project as a law student at Griffith had actually changed the course of his career, instilling a passion for criminal law.
“Being able to work on real life cases while I was at uni was a game changer for me,” he said.
“The really exciting part was acting for a client and knowing their life was in your hands.
“It was a huge responsibility, but amazing to help make a real difference.”
Fellow Griffith Law School alumni Danielle Hanson and Erin Mitchell of Potts Lawyers came on board this year as instructing lawyers.
“I actually decided to study law at Griffith University based on the Innocence Project,” said Danielle.
“It’s about making a difference and ensuring there is another avenue when people have exhausted all their other options.
“I was excited to come back and work alongside the current students – it’s important that they have a variety of role models. As female criminal lawyers and mentors, I think Erin and I bring a different perspective.”
Erin said the Innocence Project was an invaluable training ground for the next generation of lawyers.
“For me, it was an amazing way to get hands-on experience on real cases while I was at uni,” she said.
“It’s something I’m so passionate about, and to work with students and help them develop their love of criminal law is really rewarding.
“It gives students the kinds of skills that you can’t get inside a classroom, and it helps them get their foot in the door of the profession.”
Dr Blewer said students involved in the Innocence Project picked up a range of skills that made them job-ready after graduation.
“Our students prepare briefs, study trial transcripts and assess the evidence and legal arguments, then meet each week with our instructing lawyers,” she said.
“It is great for our students to be exposed to a really broad range of legal issues and get experience beyond the classroom.”
Griffith Law School student Samantha Elliott took part in the Innocence Project last trimester, and said it was a life-changing experience.
“Volunteering at the Innocence Project was one of the highlights of my time at Griffith,” she said.
“It was amazing working alongside professional lawyers on real cases – I learnt so much.”