Innocence Canada relies on staff lawyers and experienced private bar lawyers (Case Reviewers), who volunteer their time, to review cases. Other important professionals are often involved as well, for example, private investigators, forensic experts, and other specialists whose expertise may be needed.
The purpose of every case review is to try to identify new evidence that supports innocence or that supports the finding that a miscarriage of justice has occurred and the convicted person is likely innocent. If new evidence can be found, it can be used to support an application to the Minister of Justice under s. 696.1 of the Criminal Code for a further review of the conviction. This kind of application requires new and significant evidence that is relevant to the offence, capable of belief and was not known or available at the time of trial. It is a hard test to meet.
Here are some examples of new and significant evidence:
- New witnesses or experts are found
- New scientific techniques, like advanced DNA testing, advanced understanding of Shaken Baby Syndrome, become available
- Relevant evidence that was not disclosed by the prosecution or the police before trial
- Significant evidence that someone else committed the crime
Innocence Canada relies on its staff lawyers and experienced private bar lawyers to ensure that the best advice possible is obtained about how to proceed with a case review and with a plan for finding, if possible, new and significant evidence. Innocence Canada has created a committee, called the Case Review Committee, made up of a group of very senior private bar lawyers who volunteer their time, to provide guidance and advice to Case Reviewers and to make sure that cases are progressing.
How does Innocence Canada’s Case Review Process work?
Innocence Canada has limited staff and financial resources and a high volume of applications. Applications that are accepted are currently placed on a Waiting List. The Case Review process cannot begin immediately after we receive your application. It is possible that it will take up to two years for Innocence Canada to be ready to begin the Case Review process for the oldest cases on the Waiting List. If your case has been on the Waiting List, you will be notified when Innocence Canada is ready to start work on it.
Learn more about our application process.
The first stage of the Case Review Process is called the “Preliminary Review”. The purpose of the Preliminary Review is to obtain all necessary and relevant information to determine if there is sufficient likelihood of finding new and substantial evidence of innocence to continue with the case to the next stage: Full Review.
In the Preliminary Review stage, the Innocence Canada staff lawyers will obtain all necessary information from your lawyers, the Crown, the court and any other important sources needed to understand your case. The Innocence Canada staff lawyers will review the case with the Case Review Committee to make a decision about whether Innocence Canada is able to continue with the case or not. You will be notified about the decision of the Case Review Committee, whether it is to proceed to the Full Review stage or to change the status of the case to “Inactive”.
A case will proceed to the Full Review stage when Innocence Canada thinks that it is possible that significant new evidence may be found. When a case proceeds to the Full Review stage, a Case Reviewer, a private bar lawyer, will be assigned. The Case Reviewer will assess all information gathered to date and will recommend and undertake further investigative steps to be taken in order to obtain new and significant evidence. The investigative plan will be discussed with the Case Review Committee and decisions will be made about the plan and any other steps recommended by the Committee.
The Case Reviewer will work with the Innocence Canada staff lawyers to make sure that the plan for reviewing the case and obtaining new evidence moves forward in a timely way. The Innocence Canada staff lawyers will assist with finding experts, retaining investigators, obtaining disclosure or documents, and any other necessary tasks.
The results of the investigative plan will be discussed with the Case Review Committee and a decision made about whether there is sufficient new evidence to support an application to the Minister of Justice under s. 696 of the Criminal Code for a review of your conviction.
If there is sufficient new evidence to support the application to the Minister of Justice, then Innocence Canada will adopt your case and will support the preparation of the application to the Minister of Justice.
At any stage in the case review process, it may not be possible, even after significant effort and investigation, to find fresh evidence supporting innocence. In these circumstances a decision will be made to change the status of the case from “Active’ to “Inactive”.
You will be notified about each decision made about your case.
When does Innocence Canada change the status of a case from “Active” to “Inactive”?
Once a person is convicted of a criminal offence, it is exceptionally difficult to overturn the conviction. At any stage of the case review, if it appears to Innocence Canada that there is no likelihood of finding new and significant evidence to support innocence, a decision will be made to change the status of the case from “Active” to “Inactive”.
What does this mean for you?
It means that Innocence Canada will not take any further steps on the case. But if in the future new and important information becomes available that may support your innocence, Innocence Canada may re-open your case.
Who can I talk to about my case?
It can take a long time for the Case Review Process to be started and completed. If you need to contact Innocence Canada, please do so through Win Wahrer, Director of Client Services by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 416-504-7500 ext. 227.
Is Innocence Canada my lawyer?
No. Innocence Canada does not provide direct legal services. If you need a lawyer to proceed with an appeal, Innocence Canada may be able to help you find a lawyer. If after a thorough case review, there are sufficient grounds to make an application to the Minister of Justice under s.696.1 of the Criminal Code, then Innocence Canada will find a lawyer to prepare the application for you, subject to your agreement.
Is the information Innocence Canada receives about my case confidential?
Yes. All information received by Innocence Canada is kept confidential and cannot be disclosed to anyone without your consent. By signing the Authorization form, you allow Innocence Canada to share information with other people and agencies involved in the Case Review process.
Can Innocence Canada help me if I have a lawyer willing to work for me on an application to the Minister?
Yes. Innocence Canada can help your lawyer with information, precedents and other advice about how to proceed to find new evidence. The amount of resources and time that Innocence Canada can provide to your lawyer is in the discretion of Innocence Canada and will depend on the other demands on the staff lawyers’ time.