Yesterday, I joined a debate in the House of Commons calling on the Government to step in after Judges refused to overturn guilty verdicts using faulty 'joint enterprise' laws. Established in the 1980s, it was an easy route for prosecutors to convict multiple suspects for a single crime – most of whom were suspected of being gang members.
However, when ‘joint enterprise’ was used in cases of murder – it set the threshold for culpability so dangerously low that the prosecutor was simply required to prove that the defendant could have ‘foreseen’ that a murder or violent act was likely to take place - even if they did not intend to assist or encourage the murder at all. Over the years, thousands of people are estimated to have been prosecuted under joint enterprise.
Thankfully, in 2016 the highest court in the UK – the Supreme Court – admitted that the application of the joint enterprise law had taken "a wrong turn" and been misinterpreted for 30 years - essentially declaring hundreds of convictions to be unsafe.
Despite this, the legal system is still resisting pressure to overturn previous guilty verdicts in joint enterprise challenges on the basis that those wrongly convicted did not suffer a ‘substantial injustice’. This ignores the fact that the very law used to convict them has since been declared to be “mistaken” by the highest court in the UK.
We rightly expect the highest standards of legal accuracy in our criminal justice system and it is worrying that the system is not focussing heavily on those who may have been wrongly convicted. The right to a fair trial - a basic human right – is being undermined.
The Law in this field has always been a matter of common law and so it is the responsibility of the courts, which have created it, to ensure the appellate system functions to ensure the rights of a fair trial are protected.
I hope that by raising this issue in the commons, the media will take a close interest in the cases where joint enterprise has led to innocent people being convicted. JENGbA, the campaign group formed in 2010 – Joint Enterprise …. not guilty by association – is now supporting over 800 prisoners, many serving mandatory life sentences of 22 years, the youngest of whom was just 12 years old when charged.
Many of us are very worried that serious injustices are not being remedied. Yesterday’s debate is an opportunity for Parliament to speak out.