Fatboy Slim is an English electronic music producer who produced one of my favourite albums entitled ‘You’ve come a long way baby.’ I resonate with this phrase, not least because my greatest achievement is my four children (two of which I have managed to navigate through to adulthood, which in todays’ world is no mean feat), but never in my wildest dreams did I envisage becoming a National Teaching Fellow (NTF). And here I am as a 2021 NTF. I am delighted, proud and a little overwhelmed, let me explain why.
I came into HE at 27 as a mature student after I left secondary school at 16 and started working full time in retail whilst studying A-levels in the evening at college. I think it is fair to say that my teachers would not have expected me to study and teach law let alone graduate with a PhD in the subject which, incidentally I did this summer. I started my degrees with three children and added a fourth in the last year as an undergraduate - I like a challenge. When I started studying for my PhD, my children were 2,7,8 and 10 and when I finished they were 10, 15, 16 and 18. For the entirety of that journey I have been teaching on and running the wonderful Innocence Project London (IPL) and I wouldn’t change a single thing.
During my studies I was taught by brilliant lecturers who inspired me to want to learn. They were also extremely compassionate, recognising that the students they taught were from many different backgrounds and that treating each as an individual lifted them up to encourage them to invest in their learning and ultimately their outcomes. This has become the foundation of my own teaching style, in particular, the development of the IPL. Being invited to manage the IPL in 2010 coincided with the start of my career as a lecturer and all I wanted to do was inspire students to learn and be the best they could be in the same way that I had been.
Developing the pedagogy of learning on the IPL has taken years. It continues to be a process, and one that I will always strive to improve using the feedback from students. I admit to strugging over the years with how to adapt the innocence model (from the USA) to work in the English criminal justice system where innocence is considered a moral, not a legal value. I have realised however, that understanding how to apply the legal test of safety, whilst at the same time appreciating an individual’s claim of innocence is an important aspect of the learning process that students go through as part of their work on the IPL. This type of learning is a form of clinical legal education, but it is undervalued and unappreciated as such. I draw on the clinic experience and have written about how it engages learners here.
Under the ‘innocence model’ students work at the end of the criminal justice system unlike clinical legal education in its traditional form. Deconstructing a claim of innocence to identify the evidence that convicted the individual and then finding the gaps in that evidence provides a significant opportunity to develop reflective practice, alongside creative problem solving. I am incredibly proud of being part of this type of clinical legal education, which helps students to develop a critical perspective of the criminal justice system. The IPL became a charity in 2020. Getting to this point hasn’t been easy but I am consistently inspired by the students I work with. Their passion and enthusiasm drives me when the brick walls of innocence work seem impassable. The impact innocence work has is evident when the alumni IPL students contact me asking how they can help and get involved.
To be recognised as a 2021 NTF reaffirms what a privilege it is for me to engage students with the issues facing the criminal justice system. They learn to be inquisitive and that what they do, can make a difference to the criminal justice system. They know that wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice taken place in England and Wales, do you?
Louise Hewitt is a senior lecturer in the School of Law (University of Greenwich) and Director of the Innocence Project London. You can read about the pedagogy she developed, ‘Learning by Experience on the Innocence Project London: the Employer/Employee Environment’ by clicking here.