News 29 February 2016
Author: Elle SM

Supreme Court rules Joint Enterprise law wrongly interpreted for 30 years

Author Elle SM
29 February 2016

Justice is a big part of what makes the country we live in a pleasant one. We like to think that everyone trialed of wrong-doing is taken care of under the right circumstances and, most importantly, in the fairest manner possible.

It seems that one law in particular hasn’t been doing so.

The law which has given the green light for people to be convicted of murder, even if they did not inflict the fatal blow, has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The infamous joint enterprise law has been largely used to convict people in gang-related cases if defendants “could” have foreseen violent acts by their associates, but it has now come to light that it was wrong to treat “foresight” as a sufficient test, judges have said.

Their ruling could pave the way for hundreds of prisoners to seek appeals. This ruling would only apply in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and most UK overseas common law territories, but not in Scotland, as the country has it’s own law on joint enterprise.

Anti joint enterprise campaigners have welcomed the ruling, saying it would mean a fairer law, however, some murder victims’ relatives said they were concerned about possible appeals.

The historical ruling came after a panel of five judges took into consideration the case of Ameen Jogee, who had been convicted under joint enterprise of the murder of former Leicestershire police officer Paul Fyfe in 2011. The court heard that Jogee had “egged on” his friend Mohammed Hirsi, who stabbed Mr Fyfe in the heart. Both men received life sentences for murder.

Jogee had strongly contested the fact that he was not inside when the said incident took place, therefore making it impossible to foresee what his friend intended to do.

Delivering the judgement, Lord Neuberger said it was wrong to treat “foresight” as a sufficient test to convict someone of murder. “The court is satisfied after a much fuller review of the law than in the earlier cases that the courts took a wrong turn in 1984. And it is the responsibility of this court to put the law right,” he said.

The judgement refers to a ruling by Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the highest court of appeal for many Commonwealth countries, as well as the United Kingdom’s overseas territories, crown dependencies, and military sovereign base areas), in a case in which three gang members armed with knives burst into the home a prostitute and her husband in Hong Kong, in order to collect a debt. The husband was stabbed to death by at least one of the gang members. All three were convicted of murder.

This ruling does not mean those convicted under joint enterprise can automatically be able to appeal. The change to the law is not retrospective, so anyone appealing would have to show that they would suffer “substantial injustice” if they were not allowed to appeal.

In Jogee’s case, the Supreme Court “set aside” his conviction, meaning the verdict originally given to him no longer stands. However, the ruling does not mean he will walk free, as the court found he was unquestionably guilty of at least manslaughter, and there was evidence that he could have been guilty of murder. This case was just one of many examples that we can see getting appealed.

In further points raised after publishing the judgement, Lord Neuberger said the ruling did not automatically mean that all previous joint enterprise convictions were unsafe, “A person who joins in a crime, which any reasonable person would realise involves a risk of harm, and death then results, is guilty at least of manslaughter”, the maximum sentence for which is life imprisonment.

The rule that “a person who intentionally encourages or assists the commission of a crime is as guilty as the person who physically commits it,” was not affected

It remained opened to a jury to decide whether a person intentionally encouraged or assisted a crime, for example through knowledge that weapons were being carried
The ruling will apply in most UK overseas common law territories.