Innocence ProjectThe Innocence Project was a highlight of my second year. It’s a fun, intense, slightly subversive clinical program that I’d recommend for basically anyone. Obviously the focus is criminal law, but even if you’re not thinking about going into crim it’s as good an opportunity as law school provides to get deeply involved in a serious, complex legal matter, with real prospects of doing some good out in the world. The Project represents people who claim to have been wrongfully convicted of serious offences, most frequently murder.

AdnanMost of our clients have been behind bars for decades. Representing them is a matter of re-evaluating the case against them and in many cases reinvestigating the original offence, generally with the goal of gathering enough evidence of their innocence to apply to the Minister of Justice to review their conviction. Usually there are procedural issues implicated by our files too, so you might, for example, find yourself writing a memo about the application of the scheme in R v Hart to a Mr. Big investigation from the 90s – if by modern standards the investigation, probably including a coerced or unreliable confession, wouldn’t be admissible, that’s a powerful argument that at the very least our client should get a new trial. Students are assigned one or two files, each of which has a supervising lawyer. On a week-to-week basis you investigate the facts surrounding the case, do legal research, maintain contact with the client (often including visiting them in prison), and record your progress in memos and biweekly reports. In many files there are opportunities to draft correspondence with the Crown or police agencies on issues like disclosure or retention of evidence. The workload is relatively heavy, certainly moreso than a comparable number of credits worth of classes, but you mostly don’t get slammed the way you might be during, eg, moot crunch time.

Overall, I’d call the Innocence Project a unique opportunity as a law student to get personally involved with real and impactful legal issues, to work closely with some of the best criminal defence lawyers in the city, and to get an on-the-ground, hands-on sense of what it’s like to manage a complicated legal file. Plus you’ll be helping remedy some of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in our system, and to develop the law to the point where maybe we won’t need to fight as hard to fix these messes in the futuRyan Elliasre. Can’t recommend the program highly enough.


Written by: Ryan Elias