Friday, 28 August 2015


The Case For Treating Joint Enterprise As A Human Rights Issue

5 Years’ Worth of learning

When JENGbA was first formed in 2010, we wrongly assumed our campaign was only relevant to the Criminal Justice System of England & Wales, and that the amount of people we believed to be unfairly convicted of murder would be small.  As our campaign grew, the numbers of men, women and children we discovered serving life sentences for the actions of others increased to the point where there are now 500+ known to JENGbA who believe they have been unjustly prosecuted and excessively punished for lesser or even no role in homicides.  And we began to discover people claiming unfair conviction in other countries: Northern Ireland, Scotland, Republic of Ireland – all sentenced to life imprisonment under variants of Joint Enterprise (e.g. “Art & Part” in Scotland). Then more cases emerged of people in former British Colonies or parts of the Commonwealth, particularly in the Caribbean and Australia.

As JENGbA learned more about the legal notion of “Common Purpose”, a similar thread emerged – the influence of English judicial decisions in legal systems which follow the common law or which treat the decisions of our courts as authoritative.  The more we looked at cases and media reports of crimes involving homicide around the world, the clearer the picture emerged.  The notion of “Collective Guilt” is repeatedly used to transfer or share liability between people accused of involvement in serious crime where death had occurred.  We also became aware of variants of Joint Enterprise  which have similar effects – the Felony Murder Rule used in some parts of the United States, the Law of Parties used in Texas, Joint Criminal Enterprise used in Queensland & New South Wales in Australia, even in The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  The same process is in place – “rounding up” the criminal liability of people to that of the most serious offence, then convicting people for that offence and punishing them for it.

Fair Justice -v- Public Interest?

JENGbA is very aware this is a difficult, complex and highly contentious area of justice.  It is fraught with emotions on all sides and the stakes are high.  For some, it is sophisticated judicial practice where society sees that all who cause unlawful death pay for their crime together.  For others, it carries inherent unfairness and a high risk of miscarriages of justice in order for the police and prosecutors to “get a good result”.  And some would even argue, like the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Faulkner, that the issue is not whether the system leads to people being wrongly convicted, but whether we need a “draconian law” which allows a jury to convict even a “peripheral member of a gang which killed”. We strongly disagree with Lord Faulkner.[1]

JENGbA believes that justice should be applied fairly and consistently, and that individuals should only be made to account for their own acts rather than be held liable for the wrongdoing of another.  In the case of Joint Enterprise as it is used in criminal trials in England & Wales, it is undeniable that the low evidential threshold has led to a growing number of wrongful convictions and unjust life sentences for murder.  And there is no sign this will change without the intervention of the UK Supreme Court and/or legislation by Parliament. 

What does JENGbA do?

Our lobbying and campaigning for Joint Enterprise reform and for those unfairly convicted to be released or fairly re-tried has included submissions to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, lobbying of Members of Parliament, demonstrations, speeches, using mainstream and social media to get our growing voices heard, and now  in making representations to the Supreme Court. 

We are at heart a group of ordinary families, friends and supporters of prisoners serving lengthy sentences for crimes we believe they did not commit.  But JENGbA’s campaign is also supported by politicians, legal professionals & academics, and even by the Law Society which has consistently called for reform.  And the Justice Select Committee has twice called for urgent changes to the way courts in England & Wales apply Joint Enterprise.

But is it really a Human Rights Issue? 

Should we care about the way Joint Enterprise is also abused in nations and states outside the UK? JENGbA feels we must.  In fact, we are beginning to get involved in Joint Enterprise cases in the Caribbean.  (One particular Jamaican case has a bearing on the pending Supreme Court’s consideration of Joint Enterprise.)  It is also very relevant that JENGbA has been short-listed for the Liberty Human Awards 2015 for Campaign of the Year.  In particular, Liberty highlighted our “campaigning to reform the law doctrine of joint enterprise, persuading the Justice Committee to recommend urgent change.”

We feel we are getting our message across to highly respected civic and campaigning organisations that Joint Enterprise is an affront to justice.

And JENGbA will not stop until we see reform.