It was the loan of a copy of Isabel LeBourdais’ seminal book The Trial of Steven Truscott that sparked Susannah Chung’s interest in miscarriages of justice, and ultimately led her to complete her articles with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) in Toronto.
The former professional musician says she has always been motivated to address situations where people are disadvantaged or on an unequal footing, and that her work with AIDWYC provided a rewarding opportunity to act on her values.
Her articling year proved to be well timed relative to the progress of several AIDWYC cases, which typically unfold over several years. She saw four high-profile wrongful convictions successfully overturned during her time with the organization, three of which were files she had the opportunity to work on.
“It’s pretty emotional – just to see these clients having endured what they have over years and then finally experience standing before an appellate court and being granted an acquittal,” Susannah says.
She notes that a lot of people come into law school with public interest motivations, and may pursue relevant courses, but that more financially secure career paths often win out when articling decisions are made. A fellowship like hers, she says, can be invaluable in making a specialized public interest alternative more viable.
“This really facilitated my interest,” Susannah says. “By being able to work in this area full-time even for just 10 months it strengthened my resolve to remain involved in the future.” At the end of her articles, Susannah anticipated practicing criminal defence law, and becoming part of the network of lawyers AIDWYC relies on to help advance its work.
Her experience also instilled in her a strong belief in the importance of education and outreach regarding wrongful convictions. “The lack of knowledge takes me aback. A lot of people have said to me, ‘Well how can wrongful convictions occur?’ But these things do happen, and more frequently than people realize.”