The legal principle of joint enterprise means that you can be charged and convicted of murder, even if you were not the one who committed 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 was committed by another person.

We have written about joint enterprise before when a getaway driver was handed 13 years’ imprisonment for his role in a burglary. In that case, the occupant of the house was held at knifepoint while £80,000 worth of jewellery was stolen. The defendant, called Gilmartin, remained outside the entire time. However, he had scoped the area earlier in the day. He also drove the other men to and from the property. The court concluded that the crime could not have been committed without his help. Because of the joint enterprise law, he was sentenced in a similar way to those who had entered the property, threatened the occupant and taken the jewellery.

Joint enterprise can also apply to murder cases. There have been countless examples over the years, 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, as it actually reversed previous case law on joint enterprise.

Before then, a secondary defendant could be convicted of the primary crime, if he had a 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 particularly hard 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 had shouted encouragement at Hirsi, making him guilty under the law of joint enterprise. Both the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal agreed and he received a long custodial sentence.

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. Jogee was re-tried and found guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder.

Joint enterprise applied disproportionately

The Jogee ruling was hugely significant as it set a new standard for joint enterprise convictions. This was widely welcomed by activists. Joint enterprise has been particularly controversial in recent years because a body of research shows that it is applied disproportionately against black defendants. This includes a study by the Prison Reform Trust which looked at 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 who were 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 eventually some of the pursuers 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 then 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 a total of 11 individuals were convicted – all of them either black or mixed race. The prosecution argued that they were members of a gang, and they all shared the intent to kill or seriously harm Hafidah. This, the prosecution said, 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?

Therefore, even if you played a seemingly lesser role in an offence, it does not necessarily mean that you will be treated more leniently by the criminal justice system. 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 who have been treated as though they had.

That is why no matter what 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, when you are allowed to ask for legal representation during all police interviews. This is free of charge. Our solicitors can apply their legal expertise to make sure you are not wrongly convicted for a crime someone else committed. 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 we can 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?

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