FEWER streets in Glasgow possess as much of its history as the Saltmarket, down near the River Clyde, at the southern side of the Cross. Glasgow’s High Court is down there, just across from the western entrance to Glasgow Green. Paddy’s Market lies nearby, now in its deceased state after it was considered an embarrassment to those among the city’s civic authorities with the shortest memories and largest pretensions.

Once, it had been the favoured residential area of the city’s slave-driving merchants. Then it became a slum in the 19th century before regaining a semblance of desirability once more. Along with the High Street it forms a natural gateway to the city’s eastern approaches and those communities which have borne for centuries the thick end of its embedded inequalities.

As such, it seems appropriate that the Saltmarket is also home to one of Scotland’s most important rescue organisations and one of its most neglected. The Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Mojo) resides in a friendly suite of offices a few hundred yards from one of the courts whose systemic incompetence and prejudice made an organisation such as this necessary. These courts and their brothers in cities across the UK that maintain and dispense whatever you choose to call its approximation of ‘justice’ often reflect the patterns of inequality and prejudice that sired their most persistent customers.

Mojo has been in existence since 1991 when it was founded by Paddy Joe Hill, one of the Birmingham Six who suffered one of the biggest judicial and governmental injustices in British legal history. Yet, to describe their conviction and 18-year incarceration as the biggest of these may not be true. None of us will ever quite know how many others were unsolved or swept aside by a country which uses every lever at its disposal to maintain the fiction that its system of justice is a fair one.

Paddy Joe Hill had initially intended to spend a year following his release to campaign for others who had suffered a similar fate at the hands of the British legal establishment. It soon consumed his life and 27 years later he and the organisation he founded are still fighting against insurmountable odds and embedded obstacles.

For those of us who have never spent time in jail as a prisoner it’s impossible to convey the effects of incarceration. Nor can we comprehend the mental anguish suffered by those who know they have been wrongfully convicted and that those whom the state entrusts to dispense fairness had knowingly participated in the injustice.

This isn’t merely about the incompetence, lies and corruption of rogue, uniformed grunts at ground level. In Dennis Eady’s Miscarriages of Justice: The Uncertainty Principle published in 2009 which built on previous studies the author found that in a large sample of more than 900 trials around five per cent of convictions were dubious. Defence solicitors saw problems in 17 per cent of cases. This amounts to more than 5,000 ‘problematic’ cases in England and Wales from an overall prison population of 85,000.

In Scotland statistics from between 2013 to 2017 show that from appeals in jury trials two convictions a month were overturned during this period. In 2017 the Appeal court in Scotland heard 59 appeals of conviction with 16 of these being overturned. This shows a higher wrongful conviction rate per head of population in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

Astonishingly, out of these thousands of cases over many years, only one police officer has ever been convicted of criminal activity. This supports the unwritten principle of British justice: that police officers shall not be held to the levels of legal accountability as the rest of the population, and certainly not before retirement puts them out of reach of internal discipline and their pension plans kick in.

There is a complacent assumption made by many about the fate of those suffering a miscarriage of justice. We trust that the state has made adequate financial compensation and that a care and welfare network is made available to them to meet their ongoing psychological and physical traumas. Further, we assume that the compensation will be condign for having suffered such a grievous wrong and that a meaningful and heartfelt apology will be forthcoming.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! The British state would rather be subject to a hostile foreign power than admit that its entire justice system – from sentencing all the way down to policing – is dysfunctional. This is why it hides behind words like unsafe or problematic. “Don’t think, old boy, that just because we have found your conviction to be unsafe that you might not be guilty anyway. And if further evidence arises we’ll be knocking on your door again.”

The Miscarriages of Justice Organisation deals with more than 150 applications per year for support in challenging wrongful convictions and their caseload is increasing. The most common form of psychological distress suffered by victims is severe post-traumatic stress disorder. This has profound consequences for future work opportunities and potential for addiction. The damage to whatever close relationships that still exist in their lives and to future ones can be severe.

The support offered to them by the state which has been wholly responsible for this human wreckage is almost non-existent. More support is given to groups representing offenders who have justly served their time. Mojo gets an annual sum of £66,000 from the Scottish Government (for which it is most grateful). Several times each year it must say prayers and cross its fingers just to keep the lights on.

Later this month Mojo will meet with civil servants in the Justice Department of the Scottish Government to discuss future funding. The outcome will determine whether or not Scotland can consider itself to be a fair, progressive and enlightened country. Good luck with that. In 11 years of "progressive", "fair" and "enlightened" government, our judiciary is still top-heavy with the white male products of our most exclusive schools; our police force is a law unto itself (witness the Sheku Bayoh parody of justice) and we still jail more of our citizens than the majority of our European neighbours.

In House of the Dead, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” God knows how Scotland and the UK can be judged in prison welfare when its treatment of those wrongfully convicted is so shameful.