The legal principle of joint enterprise means that you can be charged and convicted of murder, even if you did not commit the fatal act.

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What is joint enterprise?

Joint enterprise is a law which allows an individual to be convicted of a crime that another person committed.

We have written about joint enterprise before when a getaway driver was handed 13 years’ imprisonment for his role in a burglary. 

Joint enterprise can also apply to murder cases. There have been countless examples, with some joint enterprise convictions being incredibly controversial. Take the case of 15-year-old Jordan Cunliffe. He was present when a group of teenagers killed Gary Newlove with a kick to the neck. But Cunliffe says he never touched Newlove – a claim supported by the fact he was registered blind at the time due to a degenerative eye condition. Even so, he was found guilty and given a custodial sentence.

The law on joint enterprise

Yet just because you are in the vicinity when a crime takes place, does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted of that crime. To be found guilty under joint enterprise, the prosecution must prove two things:

  • The conduct element – where the defendant’s actions contributed towards the fatal act
  • The mental element – where the defendant intended the victim to suffer serious harm

Supreme Court case R v Jogee

This legal test was set in February 2016 by the Supreme Court during the R v Jogee case. It was a landmark ruling, reversing a previous case law on joint enterprise.

Before then, a secondary defendant could be convicted of the primary crime if he had the foresight that the crime might be committed. In other words, if you were in someone else’s company and you suspected that they might commit a murder, then you would also have been guilty.

Campaigners had long criticised this element of the law, saying that it is difficult to predict the actions of others. The charity Just For Kids Law argued that it was tough for children and adolescents “to predict events or understand the consequences of theirs and other people’s actions in the way that an adult would.”

In the case of R v Jogee, Jogee and his co-defendant, Hirsi, repeatedly visited the house of Naomi Reed one evening while intoxicated. On the third occasion, Jogee and Hirsi got into a heated exchange with Reed’s boyfriend, Paul Fyfe. Hirsi stabbed Fyfe, fatally wounding him. The prosecution argued that Jogee shouted encouragement at Hirsi, making him guilty under the joint enterprise law. Both the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal agreed and he received a long custodial sentence.

Jogee was re-tried and found guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder. However, the case then went to the Supreme Court, which said the law had been wrongly interpreted for the last 30 years. The judgment concluded that to be guilty under joint enterprise, the secondary defendant must intend to help the principal defendant to commit the crime. In other words, they must share the same intent – be it to kill or to cause serious harm.

Joint enterprise applied disproportionately

The Jogee ruling was hugely significant as it set a new standard for joint enterprise convictions. Activists widely welcomed this. Joint enterprise has been particularly controversial recently because research shows it is applied disproportionately against black defendants. This includes a Prison Reform Trust study examining 61 joint enterprise cases involving 157 defendants. It found that for defendants whose ethnicity was known, around two-thirds were from ethnic minorities. More than 40% were black.

It was hoped the Jogee case would help prevent the convictions of those in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, the murder case of Wahab Hafidah has thrown this into doubt.

The murder of Wahab Hafidah

In May 2016, 18-year-old Wahab Hafidah was stabbed to death in Moss Side, a suburb two miles south of Manchester. While drunk, he provoked a group of youths in a park by throwing stones at their cars. The group chased him through the streets, during which time a hammer was thrown at him. More people joined the chase, and some of the pursuers eventually caught up with Hafidah. He was thrown to the ground, punched and kicked. A lady passing by shouted at them to stop, after which all but two of the assailants ran away. One of them pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the neck.

The man who stabbed Hafidah was 19-year-old Devonte Cantrill. He admitted to the crime and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Yet 11 individuals were convicted – all black or mixed race. The prosecution argued that they were gang members, and they all shared the intent to kill or seriously harm Hafidah. The prosecution said this was evidenced by the throwing of the hammer and the fact the other defendants may also have been carrying knives. It was argued that the other defendants must have foreseen that a weapon would be used, and in continuing the chase, they had the same intent as the primary defendant.

The Crown Court sided with the prosecution, and 11 of the 12 defendants were convicted of either murder or manslaughter (one was acquitted). This decision makes the Jogee ruling slightly ambiguous, as the argument of foresight is still being used. To reiterate, the prosecution said that the defendants foresaw the use of a deadly weapon, but they continued the chase anyway. This implied their intent to harm. As Beatrice Krebs, associate professor of law at Reading University said: “If intention can be readily inferred from foresight, then nothing will have changed.”

Did you play a lesser role?

The organisation Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association (JENGBA) represents nearly 1,000 people who have been imprisoned under joint enterprise. That is nearly 1,000 people who did not commit an offence directly but have been treated as though they had. Therefore, even if you played a seemingly lesser role in a violation, it does not necessarily mean that you will be treated more leniently by the criminal justice system.

That is why no matter your level of involvement in a crime, you must always get the help of a specialist criminal defence solicitor. This starts at the police station, where you can ask for legal representation during all police interviews. This is free of charge. Our solicitors can apply their legal expertise to ensure you are not wrongly convicted for someone else’s crime. We will present your side of the story to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and, if needed, the court. We do not want to see anyone unfairly convicted and will do everything possible to secure a just outcome.

Overturning a wrongful conviction

If you have been convicted under joint enterprise law and disagree with this decision, we can help you with an appeal. Appeals are subject to tight time limits, so you must contact us sooner, rather than later. If your conviction was wrongful, we can work to have the decision overturned. Or could you plead diminished responsibility?

Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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