Justyna Cieślikowska

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March 2020 – For two weeks, Europe and the world have been plunged into a pandemic depression. Millions of people are locked in their own homes. The only way out is a short walk … This 2020 global lockdown may help us all understand, if only for a moment, what it means to be trapped through no fault of our own.

When I first went to the Volov Penitentiary in the summer of 2013 with the intention of shooting the project, I had a very different story in mind. My heroes were dangerous criminals sentenced to life imprisonment.

During the shooting, I met Jack, who was sentenced to 25 years for a brutal murder. Learning about his case caused a change in perspective and marked the beginning of a completely different view of law and justice.

The structure of court records is not uniform and predictable – just as the decisions made during the judicial process are unpredictable.
Investigative documents, expert opinions, and witness testimony are the basis on which the courts, based on the law, render judgments.
The verdicts and their justifications, as well as appeals to them, any requests for clemency also go on file later. All the while, the participants in the judicial process are arguing about guilt or lack of guilt and the amount of punishment.
At the center of these stories is the accused – sometimes a repeat offender and sometimes a person who is completely innocent.
If we look at the individual cases, we see that the most important thing is the initial stage – the way the investigation began, its course, and later the opinions of experts.
All the irregularities of the initial stage of the investigation, are the result of negligence, omissions of investigators, deliberate actions of the prosecutor’s office.
These documents from the first pages of the file form the basis for later judgments. The higher appellate courts focus mainly on procedural errors, and only in exceptional cases, when new evidence emerges – the judicial proceedings can be conducted once again.
At all times, the courts base themselves on evidence and expert opinions from earlier proceedings. Verification of experts and their opinions is often too costly, so courts often do not take advantage of the opportunity to re-verify these documents.
The victims of these disastrously conducted court proceedings are not only the defendants, but also their families and loved ones, and society as a whole, which ends up bearing the financial costs.
The last hope for those who consider themselves wronged in national courts is the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on defendant states.



15 years in prison – sentenced to life imprisonment for brutal murder, committed in 1999.

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