Put simply, joint enterprise is when two or more people are deemed liable for a single crime.
Defendants can be convicted and sentenced even if their involvement in the crime was minimal and peripheral.
The rule has often been used to convict people who have been part of a group or gang involved in a death. For example, even if only one ‘member’ of the gang was responsible for killing someone, other members at the scene may also be charged with murder if it’s believed they could have ‘foreseen’ death or serious harm as a result of their actions.
Two years ago The Supreme Court determined that the legislation had been misinterpreted in suspected murder cases for more than 30 years.
Judges ruled that it’s wrong to treat “foresight” as a sufficient test and it was thought that the ruling would lead to a large number of appeals from those already convicted of crimes under the legislation.
However, two thirds of appeals have been rejected completely while the rest have been unsuccessful.
In March 2014, 21-year-old Alex Henry was convicted of murder and sentenced to a life term of 19 years, even though he didn’t physically stab the man who died during a fight he took part in.
In August 2013, Alex was out shopping with three friends, Younis Tayyib, Janhelle Grant-Murray, and Cameron Ferguson. Alex left the shopping centre with Cameron and saw Janhelle involved in a fight with a group of four older men. Alex picked up someone’s mobile phone and threw it at one of the men before punching another. Meanwhile, Cameron took a knife from a bag and fatally stabbed one of the men.
Cameron pleaded guilty and was convicted of murder, but the jury believed that Alex knew Cameron had a knife and therefore could have foreseen the use of it to cause death or very serious harm.
Detective Inspector Simon Deefholts, from the Homicide and Serious Crime Command said of the incident: “Grant-Murray instigated a confrontation which erupted into violence when his associates Henry and Ferguson – at least one of whom was armed with a knife – arrived at the scene.
“The jury have found that although not all of them had knives they were equally responsible for [the victim’s] murder.”
Other well-known joint enterprise cases include the men convicted of stabbing Stephen Lawrence to death in 1993 and those found responsible for the death of schoolboy Ben Kinsella in 2008.
Senior Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell has described the legislation as “a failure by our criminal justice system to distinguish between gangs and groups.”
Campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) was created to support the families of the 800 men, women and children convicted under the law.
Jan Cunliffe, who believes her son Jordan was unfairly sentenced following his involvement in the death of Garry Newlove in 2007 said: “We believe Joint Enterprise works hand in glove with a target driven police force and a target driven CPS in over charging and over-criminalising individuals. We are aware with targets there comes pressure. There is a major concern for us especially when more and more frequently the law being used to convict is a common law that has been acknowledged as being misinterpreted for over three decades.”
Mrs Cunliffe argued that because her son is blind, he didn’t witness the murder of Garry Newlove and could not have understood what was happening, let alone encourage actions that he could not see. The jury found him guilty of murder due to the notion of ‘possible foresight’.