Staff and students at Northumbria University's Law School turned theory into practice by helping to secure a £170,000 compensation payout for a man who was wrongly convicted of robbery in 1991.
Kevin Kerrigan, principal lecturer at Northumbria's Law School, and his final-year students helped to quash the conviction of Alex Allan, who served six years in jail. They also helped to secure the payout.
"It never ceases to amaze me how professional and mature these students become in the final year of their programme," Mr Kerrigan said. He is a supervising solicitor at Northumbria's Student Law Office, whose work includes a criminal appeal clinic for prisoners. The students advise and represent clients for free as part of their degree, overseen by qualified solicitors.
Mr Kerrigan supervised the groups of students who first investigated Mr Allan's case in 2001, querying his alleged confession and succeeding in getting the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the case to the Court of Appeal. The quashing of the conviction paved the way for new cohorts of students to tackle the civil case for compensation under the supervision of legal academic Jonny Hall.
Mr Allen said: "The compensation payment is the end of a very long struggle for me. I was 29 years old when I went into prison and I'm 45 now. Nothing can bring back the years in prison or erase what I went through, but it is thanks to students and lecturers at Northumbria University that I did get some justice in the end."
Mr Kerrigan, who has worked in the Student Law Office since it was set up a decade ago, said he could not imagine working other than with real cases alongside academic work. "I find it's really helpful in terms of gathering experience I can then convey to students in traditional lectures or seminars. It ensures I'm still informed about what happens in the real world rather than being in an ivory tower."
Mr Kerrigan taught human rights for 15 years, a specialism previously considered somewhat eccentric but now in the mainstream after human rights legislation in 2000. He said the law clinic work benefited his research as much as his teaching. Many of the cases are legally interesting, and yield articles for law journals. He also developed a research interest in the teaching of law, writing, for example, in the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education .
"The Student Law Office is not training lawyers - we are educating students about the law but through the medium of legal practice."