Thursday, 27 September 2012

Law School Students to Assist with Calls for Joint Enterprise Reform

Cardiff University’s Law School is helping a voluntary organisation to provide evidence that may assist in a campaign to reform the doctrine of Joint Enterprise (or “Common Purpose”), which critics claim has led to many wrongful convictions in the UK.

Described as a “lazy law”, there has seemingly been a marked increase in recent years in joint enterprise convictions. Some say this is due to a misguided attempt to address “gang culture” crimes. Prosecutors are charging multiple individuals all with a major offence rather than charging individuals to reflect more accurately their different involvement. In some cases, it is urged, there should be no charges where someone just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association – is a grassroots campaigning organisation set up in 2010, aiming to press for reform of joint enterprise, its indiscriminate application and often unjust consequences.

JENGbA gave evidence to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee in 2011, and has pressed for the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue guidelines for Prosecutors on joint enterprise charging. These long overdue Draft guidelines have just been issued for consultation.
The only statistics available on the extent of joint enterprise convictions in the UK have been collected by JENGbA. So Cardiff Law School and JENGbA have devised and sent a questionnaire to over 320 prisoners on JENGbA’s database. Law students at Cardiff will work under academic staff supervision, aiming to identify the range of situations where joint enterprise occurs and to look at the kind of evidence that is used in joint enterprise cases. This information will be used to inform JENGbA’s calls for reform.

Dr Dennis Eady, who founded South Wales Liberty some twenty years ago and is jointly heading up the project at Cardiff, says “This research project data will come from the perspective of convicted people who have been maintaining innocence for many years. It is a pro bono rather than a fully-funded formal research project. But we hope that it will provide a platform for serious discussion and further research”.
Gloria Morrison, campaign director for JENGbA said “.. at a Howard League for Penal Reform Conference ...I saw first-hand how important it is to have data and statistics to support campaigning work. At the Justice Select Committee neither Keir Starmer (Director of Public Prosecutions) nor Crispin Blunt (Ministry of Justice) had any statistics on joint enterprise convictions and they are now saying it is too costly to provide them. JENGbA must provide data ourselves. Our own research will be a key tool in convincing MPs and campaigners for justice of the reality of the problem. .. I genuinely believe that findings from this questionnaire are going to be the biggest asset to the campaign so far”.

Julie Price, Director of Innovation and Engagement at Cardiff Law School, said “Cardiff Law School is happy to play a part in raising awareness about joint enterprise, utilising our students’ enthusiasm to engage with the law in action. This is the latest in our series of pro bono partnership projects in which we engage with local and national charities and voluntary organisations to assist good causes”.

If you know someone who has been convicted under “joint enterprise” in England or Wales, please email to request a questionnaire, to be included in the project.

For more information about this research project, please see JENGbA’s Newsletter Issue number 17.

This article appeared on the website of the Cardiff Law School and the Wrongful Convictions Blog

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Timi Spahiu case: 'How can a man that did nothing now be serving 33 years?'

by Duncan Campbell
Around midnight on the morning of 14 October 2006, shots were fired in an Albanian/Kosovan club in Park Royal, north-west London. One man, Prel Marku, died from a fatal injury to his brain and two others were wounded. The shooting was the result of a feud between two gangs over who had the right to rob the parking meters of the West End.
The man who fired the fatal shots was Herland Bilali, who worked as a disco doorman, had a reputation for violence and was part of one of the gangs. He is now serving life for murder.
Accompanying him into the club was a young man, Timi Spahiu, who is also serving a life sentence. He claims that he had no idea what Bilali had in mind and that he himself never fired a shot. His supporters claim he is a victim of the controversial joint enterprise laws and his will be one of the cases highlighted by a protest in Bradford later this month to draw attention to what campaigners say are serious miscarriages of justice. Under the "joint enterprise" doctrine a person may be convicted of a murder or manslaughter even if they did not fire the fatal shot or strike the fatal blow but were part of a group, one of whose members carried out the killing.
At the centre of the shooting was a turf war between rival Albanian and Kosovan gangs over the theft of cash from parking meters in central London, mainly in the borough of Westminster, which claimed to have lost £1,243,000 in one year alone as a result of the thefts.
Bilali had already been involved in a confrontation over the dispute.
Spahiu, who is 38 and was born in Kosovo, is married with two children but separated from his wife. He came to the UK in 1998 and was given permission to stay as someone claiming asylum. He knew Bilali but says that he had thought that the visit to the club was to be an attempt to sort out the dispute peacefully with a discussion between the two rival groups.
The club was for members of the Albanian/Kosovan community to meet, drink and play chess and cards and the two men were admitted after pressing the entrance door buzzer. According to witnesses, Bilali came in, shouted an obscenity in Albanian, pulled out a gun and started firing. Marku, the man shot dead, was an innocent bystander not involved in the parking meter dispute.
Spahiu said the first knowledge he had that Bilali had a gun was when they went into the club. "It was all over in a matter of seconds," he said later. "I turned and ran down the stairs ... I'd never seen anything like this before. I felt shocked, really bad." He said he asked Bilali why he had done it and Bilali said "They wanted to kill me, they had guns."
Both men fled, Spahiu to Salford. After a month he was arrested and told police that they were "100% wrong" about his involvement.
He then remained silent, he said, on the advice of his lawyer. Bilali escaped to Denmark so Spahiu stood trial at Snaresbrook crown court without him. He was convicted and jailed for life with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 33 years. Bilali was eventually tracked down, extradited, tried and convicted and is also serving a life sentence, with a minimum tariff of 34 years.
Deborah Madden, a friend of Spahiu, who has been campaigning on his behalf since his arrest believes that he is another victim of the joint enterprise law. "How can a man that did nothing — and all the witnesses say did nothing — now be serving 33 years?" she said.
Lawyers are now re-examining his case with a view to an appeal.
This article first appeared in The Guardian here

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A dangerous enterprise

by Brian Richardson, June 2012

The law on joint enterprise is one of the most complex and controversial in criminal law. It can be used to convict people who are said to have acted together while committing an offence. Each defendant is held "liable for the acts done in pursuance of that joint enterprise", including "liability for unusual consequences". 

It was on this basis, for example, that Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It was acknowledged that the jury could not be sure that either of them had inflicted the fatal wound. Despite this they were convicted, as the judge observed when sentencing them, on the basis that they knew that one of their gang had a "lethal knife" and that this person had used it with their "knowledge and approval".
While welcoming the conviction of these racist thugs we should be deeply concerned about the use and abuse of joint enterprise. A recent decision of the UK Supreme Court has highlighted the risk of such ill-conceived laws leading to serious miscarriages of justice. 

The case concerned Armel Gnango and an unidentified opponent known only as "bandana man" who decided to settle a dispute by shooting at one another across a car park in south London. Both missed their target but, tragically, a bullet fired by bandana man struck and killed a Polish care worker walking behind Gnango. Bandana man remains at large but Gnango was convicted of murder. The Supreme Court upheld this decision on the grounds that the gunfight was a joint enterprise. The death of a passer-by was therefore a foreseeable consequence of this agreement. 

Whatever the merits of Gnango's case, there is a real concern that this law is being used to target people, specifically youths, who have made no agreement and may have no involvement whatsoever in criminal activity.
Readers will know that gangs are a particular obsession of the police, politicians and the press. After last summer's riots cabinet ministers were quick to declare that gangs had been at the heart of it. Home secretary Theresa May was forced into a humiliating climbdown when her department's own figures contradicted these claims. Nevertheless, the police maintain that gangs are responsible for a disproportionate amount of "serious" crime across the country. 

In their desperation to combat this apparent menace the police are criminalising those who are simply bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time. In recent years this has led to the adoption of what lawyers have described as a "dragnet approach" with joint enterprise being used to charge young people with violent crimes. 

Individuals who happen to be on the periphery of an outbreak of disorder have been arrested and prosecuted on the flimsiest of evidence, including Facebook material revealing loose associations with countless people. The law assumes that if someone is "voluntarily present" among a group engaged in threatening behaviour, there must be a case for them to answer. The onus is thrown onto the defendant to show that they were not party to any agreement, that their presence and intentions were innocent or that they had "effectively withdrawn" from a preconceived plan. 

The Metropolitan Police now regularly send officers into schools with a YouTube video entitled "Who Killed Deon?" It is a frightening, blood-curdling film which ends with the chilling warning, "If your presence, knowledge or actions lead to a murder you'll be charged with murder under joint enterprise."

Fortunately there is a groundswell of opposition to this indiscriminate approach and the injustice that results from it. A grassroots campaign, Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), has been formed to raise awareness and provide support for prisoners seeking to challenge their convictions. JENGbA has produced its own video, "Not Guilty by Association", and played a significant role in pressuring the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, into promising written guidance which clarifies the law. 

Starmer was considered a bold appointment when he was appointed in 2008. He had previously been joint head of Doughty Street Chambers, one of the leading sets of human rights barristers. As recent controversies involving undercover and racist police officers and the overcharging of protesters have demonstrated, however, he has hardly covered himself in glory over the past three and a half years. It would be unwise to assume therefore that his guidance alone will herald a bright new dawn.

This column appeared in the Socialist Review here.  

Friday, 7 September 2012

JENGbA Newsletter July/August 2012

JENGbA's latest Newsletter is now available HERE 

Please share with anyone you feel should know about our campaign.

Download the Newsletter here

Thursday, 6 September 2012

"UK guilty too" - Guardian letters

From The Guardian letters, Thursday 6 September:

UK guilty too

While welcoming the decision to release the South African miners who were charged with the murder of their colleagues (Report, 3 September), I despair that the outcry does not reach our own country, where people in England and Wales are being rounded up and charged under the same "common purpose" law, also called "joint enterprise". Are we so different from the South African apartheid regime when we can charge 21 schoolchildren with the murder of a boy in Victoria Station two years ago? Or give life sentences to children whose friends committed a crime they did not foresee or could prevent?

JENGbA, Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association, is campaigning to highlight the injustice of this law and has called upon the director of public prosecutions to issue the guidelines for prosecutors he promised in January. We have also asked the government to call a moratorium until those guidelines have been issued.

Cath O'Hanlon