Thursday, 2 August 2012

One of the lucky ones

Being a campaigner for JENGbA is the hardest job of my life. Harder than studying full time for a Masters whilst working part time and being a full time mum to two young lads. That, until now, was what I once considered to be the hardest and most satisfying time of my life. 
No one can teach you how to be part of a successful campaign, and if I am honest, if I was asked how I got to this point I would not have a clue how to answer that question. Learning something new daily and researching the law and past cases is very important. Being willing to listen to people you have never met before and having the ability to trust them implicitly. That's not an easy task either - not if you have a loved one who has been taken from you as a miscarriage of justice. When that happens your whole perception of the justice system, the Law and everything you believed to be right and wrong, moral and immoral goes out of the window. People tell you to go to the papers. I learned pretty quickly that that's not an option.

I think I'm one of the lucky ones. I say that because I refuse to believe the world is filled with bad, or with people who do not care or people who deliberately do the things they do to hurt others. Or that anyone with an ounce of decency would hide behind a legal principle still knowing it was immoral. I prefer to think folks are just too lazy, too greedy or just ignorant of the facts. (But as the saying goes, "Ignorance is no defence"). All of these human traits can be resolved. They can be changed through hard work and by our campaigning. True wickedness can never be changed.
Jan with Afie Meadows, a student who suffered head injuries during clashes with police at a tuition fees protest
The campaign is about Joint Enterprise and we campaign on behalf of, and with, those wrongfully convicted. We highlight such cases where Joint Enterprise Law has been applied and those convicted are stating they are not guilty of the index offence.
Joint Enterprise is a legal principle, it's not even a Law passed by Parliment. To me, the Law is just a human process, designed and implemented by humans. As with any human process, mistakes will happen and JENGbA is about taking that legal process and kicking it into the 21st Century. Kicking it into the European Court of Human Rights if needs be. It's not a law passed by Parliment or even one that has been seriously debated and that must always be remembered. Along with the human misery it is causing and how that far outweighs the money made by those who endorse it.

It has been difficult at times to work out a plan of action or even a strategy. The JENGbA campaign is a very controversial one. There are those who really do not want to know about the reality of what is actually happening in our courts, or who this is happening to. There are those who will listen but find it very difficult to believe this can be happening in modern Britain. And then there are people who instantly understand. 
As a campaigner I know its pointless preaching to the converted, it's a waste of my time. It's nice to communicate with like minded individuals who understand, and a real confidence boost when I've been having a difficult time. But I'm not here to be flattered - I'm here to teach, to inform, to educate and most importantly of all, to learn as much as I can and then make a difference. 

I have found that I can only be myself. And that is why, as I have already said, I am lucky. Lucky that I can be a person who can still talk openly and with honesty, and will still trust others to believe in what I say. Granted, I've never had to do anything like this before, but after all my family have been through, the pain, the endless humiliation and the frustration, I should be very damaged and angry to the extent that I am incoherant and even afraid. I have met people who are like that and it saddens me.

Jan, with Paddy Hill and Mo Riaz

My world was turned upside down and I knew life would never be the same again. It was a determination to help others that has driven me. The need to prevent this from happening to anyone else and a willingness to want to help my son and those who live as my son does (as a Miscarriage of Justice). I spoke out about Jordan as soon as I could, so that others would approach me. At first it was because I wanted help, but it became very clear that those who I am drawn towards are very similar to myself. They have been through a similar experience but are also more than willing to dedicate their time to others.

When people like that are fortunate enough to meet each other they draw courage from each other and utilise each others' strengths and weaknesses. JENGbA has a very solid team made up of a small number of people. This small number of people work every day, meeting people, organising events, researching, writing papers, important letters, delegating work to others who are desperate to help but sometimes limited in what they can do for various reasons. We are a tight team and one that could not have been manufactured. We just happened out of a powerful need and we have evolved.

I now realise what part I play; sometimes it changes but I know my strengths and weaknesses better than I have ever known.

I have also learned a lot about the others I work with. I'm nothing without them, they make me everything I am right now. I am proud of what I am trying to achieve even if I haven't yet reached the final goal. I am proud to say the strangers I met in a time of trauma and grief have empowered me and become my greatest friends.

I can wake up in the morning and sit at my computer until I go to bed at night. I will spend the day emailing and writing letters, and talking to grief stricken mothers who have lost their sons with tarrifs as long as 40 years. I meet families who have not yet gone through the court process and this is a recent thing. For quite some time now we have been saying we need to be contacted by people before they are convicted. That way we may be able to help them get the not guilty verdict they deserve.  Only now does it feel exciting, for want of a better word. Only now are we being given an opportunity to help people before they go to trial and have their lives ripped apart.
We are not lawyers and legal advice is not the only thing people need. They need to understand a legal principle that very few people have even heard of. They need to know what happened to us, the JENGbA Campaigners, and realise that we campaign because we want people to realise you cannot trust that there will be Justice through the Courts. We want people to recognise that they too are victims of another person's crime, and that they are not alone in all of this. I know there is no guarantee to save anyone, but I am very confident that if I knew what I know now during my son's trial, things would have been very different.

In 2008 to google Joint Enterprise would have left you finding nothing to do with this legal principle. It appears to have been a well kept and very nasty secret. Try it now - there is so much. Individuals whose lives have been torn apart but who still  have a desire to make a difference have done that. The JENGbA family opened a can of worms.
 Jan Cunliffe is a campaigner with JENGbA