'I'd never heard of Joint Enterprise until I went to jail'
A young man named one of Britain’s most outstanding students shares his personal account of a controversial law many claim is ineffective
LIFE-CHANGING EVENT: Kenny Imafidon was fortunately acquitted of murder but many others are still locked up
Well, not until May 9, 2011.
Following the arrests of three of my close friends I was charged with murder and six other offences I did not commit.
When I was charged, I had just turned 18 years old and I was preparing to sit my A2 exams so that I could attend university. At the time, tuition fees were still £3,000 a year.
You might think that in order for me to be charged with offences that carry a potential 30-year life sentence, that Operation Trident and the Crown Prosecution Service would have had concrete evidence.
Both had to prove I committed those crimes or that I was present when they took place. The truth is they had nothing concrete.
All they had was circumstantial evidence (such as mobile phone evidence showing communication between me and people I spoke to on a daily basis).
However, as far as the prosecution were concerned, if my friends (who were also suspects) committed a crime then so had I.
After wasting six months of my life on remand at Feltham Young Offenders Institute, I was eventually acquitted half-way during the eight-week trial on directions of the judge, which rarely happens in high-profile cases heard at the Old Bailey.
The prosecution had insufficient evidence against me.
It was only after leaving prison that I realised joint enterprise was more widely used than I thought; my case was only one of many.
Joint enterprise is a doctrine created over 300 years ago, which allows people to be found equally as guilty for a crime that somebody else has committed.
This doctrine was initially designed to combat illegal duelling between aristocrats. It was used to convict the surviving duellist as well as those who aided, supported or encouraged the duel jointly for murder.
Now, this doctrine has been dusted off and reintroduced as an effort to tackle gang-related violence, particularly homicides in Britain.
So, for example, in a murder case in which there are two or more defendants, a defendant can be found guilty without intent to kill or commit serious harm.
They simply have to foresee that their co-defendant “might" kill, or “might" inflict serious harm.
You do not have to be a legal expert to know that there is something wrong with using this ‘law’ inasmuch as it has the potential to drag innocent people into the criminal justice system. Yes, it may be used to bring about justice such as in the conviction of Stephen Lawrence’s and Ben Kinsella's murderers. However, these are exceptional cases.
This doctrine is being abused by the police and prosecutors who are using it disproportionately against the black community.
If cases like mine or those of Edward Conteh, Alex Henry or Diane Churchly are not convincing enough then Jordan Cunliffe's case should.
Jordan is blind and he did not take part (neither was he able to witness the attack that killed the victim), yet he is serving a 12-year life sentence.
It’s not only me who thinks joint enterprise must be reformed but also several MPs, the Law Commissioner, the Justice Select Committee, academics and campaign groups such as JENGBA (Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association) who have been very vocal about their concerns over joint enterprise.
Thank God I am here to share my story. Many aren't. It would be naïve to say that everyone prosecuted under joint enterprise is innocent, but I can promise you that there are many who have been victim to miscarriages of justice and are presently serving life sentences for crimes they did not commit.
The Supreme Court case being heard this week (supported by JENGBA and Just for Kids Law) is a fine opportunity for the law to be reformed. I just hope the judges make the right decision.
Kenny Imafidon is a political commentator and the award-winning author of the Kenny Reports.