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Singapore's wrongly convicted to get recourse

22 May 2013

(From left) The Executive Committee of the Innocence Project Chong Joe En, Deborah Loh, Dominic Low, Kenneth and Ng Yeeting (not in picture)

Individuals who believe that they have been wrongfully convicted of crimes now have an additional avenue of recourse. They can turn to NUS law students from the Innocence Project to look into their cases.

The first-of-its-kind in Singapore, the initiative seeks to serve as a "safety net of last resort for cases which has slipped through the cracks", shared Head of the Innocence Project Kenneth Wang Ye at the recent launch.

"It strives towards a common goal shared by all actors within the criminal justice system - the uncovering of truth and the prevention of wrongful convictions. It is hoped that the Innocence Project will continue to leverage on the independence and enthusiasm of law students and contribute to the pursuit of justice," he said.

The pro-bono work is made possible by the efforts of the student-led NUS Criminal Justice Club, the Law Society of Singapore and the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

The launch was held in conjunction with the second annual Criminal Justice Conference 2013 at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus. During his keynote address, the Honourable Attorney-General Steven Chong S C cited the Innocence Project as representing "both a potent symbol of the changing times and the renewed interest in criminal law as they are an invaluable platform to have students appreciate the virtues of criminal practice."

With the project, participating students might even "have found that passion, perhaps laying the foundation for a career in criminal law," noted Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law.

Currently, a total of 38 students have come on board, going through six applications in the last five months.

A case can be submitted either by the applicant or his representative, or by the Law Society. It is then assessed on whether the person is factually innocent of the offence, has exhausted all grounds of appeal, and has served or is serving imprisonment term. If all three criteria are met, the case goes through investigation in consultation with faculty advisors and the steering committee. Lastly, a lawyer is assigned once the case is accepted.

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in the US. Since then, many American and overseas law schools have modelled themselves after the original project.