THE END FOR ‘JOINT ENTERPRISE’ CONVICTIONS?
What Is Joint Enterprise?
The doctrine of joint enterprise applies where two or more persons are accused of being involved in the commission of an offence. Joint enterprise can apply to all crimes, but is most commonly associated with gang-related murders.
For decades, the doctrine of joint enterprise established that in order to convict an individual in a gang for murder, the jury did not need to be convinced that the individual intended to kill or commit serious harm but simply needed to be convinced that the individual could foresee that another member of the group might kill or commit serious harm.
Perhaps the most famous case of joint enterprise was the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. Two men, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were jointly arrested and charged with this racially motivated murder. Despite there being no way of knowing which man inflicted the fatal blow, both men were convicted of murder due to the law on joint enterprise.
This case is an example of one of the hundreds of murder convictions secured under joint enterprise in the last three decades.
The law on joint enterprise has always been controversial, with many critics believing it has led to the wrongful murder convictions of many Defendants who were not directly involved in the actual act of killing. Campaign groups such as JENGBA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association) have long campaigned for the law to be reformed and worked with those convicted of murder under joint enterprise in an attempt to do so.
The Supreme Court Decision
This week in hearing appeals against two murder convictions under joint enterprise, the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court was that the law has been incorrectly applied for decades. The Court has ruled that rather than simply requiring a member of the group to have foresight that another member might commit the act, the correct test is whether the individual actually intended to assist or encourage murder or the infliction of serious harm.
What Happens Next?
Following this decision, it is expected that there will be numerous appeals against convictions under joint enterprise; however the decision of the Supreme Court does suggest that many convictions are safe. The Court has made it clear that anyone who is part of a criminal enterprise in the knowledge that an individual could come to harm can still expect to be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter (which also carries a potential life sentence) should a death occur during that crime. The Court is also clear that anyone who assists or encourages someone is as culpable as the person who physically carries out the act of killing.
For a successful appeal, the Defendant will have to show that a substantial injustice occurred due to the use of the ‘foresight’ test in their conviction. It is likely that most successful appeals will not acquit the Defendant altogether, but instead result in a murder conviction being replaced with manslaughter.