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First Joint Enterprise Cases Come Before Court of Appeal Since Landmark Ruling

First Joint Enterprise Cases Come Before Court of Appeal Since Landmark Ruling

A panel of three senior judges is examining the first criminal “joint enterprise” cases to come before the Court of Appeal since a landmark ruling raised the possibility that hundreds of convictions could be unsafe.

The first case to be heard before the court will concern the safety of the conviction of Asher Johnson, his brother Lewis, and their friend Reece Garwood, who were jailed for life for murdering Thomas Cudjoe in an attack on a garage forecourt in Ilford, in November 2012. Lawyers for the two brothers say the convictions are unsafe because neither had participated in or encouraged the final, fatal stage of the attack. Nor did they have prior knowledge that their co-accused was going to use a knife, the lawyers said.

Supreme Court has ruled on misinterpretation of law

The hopes of those who believe they are victims of a miscarriage of justice were boosted by a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, which declared that judges had been misinterpreting joint enterprise law for 30 years.

The law of joint enterprise, also known as “common purpose,” where someone acts in conjunction with the killer but does not strike the blow that causes death, dates back to at least the 16th century. It was later developed to deter duelling by making seconds and doctors liable for murder.

Joint enterprise was central to high-profile cases

Joint enterprise law has been used to convict and hand down long sentences in several high-profile cases.

David Norris and Gary Dobson were convicted under joint enterprise in 2012 for the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, who was stabbed to death by a gang in a racially motivated murder in south-east London.

Three teenagers were jailed for life in January 2008 for the murder of Garry Newlove, who was attacked in August 2007 after he confronted a group outside his house in Warrington, Cheshire. The mother of one of the teenagers claims that although he was at the scene he did not take part in the murder, and she has campaigned against joint enterprise laws.

Five teenagers received prison sentences totalling 76 years in 2011 over the killing of 15-year-old Zac Olumegbon, who was stabbed as he arrived at Park Campus School in West Norwood, south London, in July 2010.

A key test was not applied correctly

The Supreme Court justices said that a key test imposed by judges in assessing guilt in joint enterprise cases had been incorrectly applied. The justices said that, for decades, courts had been in “error” in treating the fact that a secondary, co-accused had foresight that the principal attacker might carry out a killing as sufficient proof of guilt in assisting or encouraging them. Foresight of what someone else might do is merely part of the evidence, the Supreme Court said. “It is for the jury to decide on the whole evidence … whether [a secondary party] had the necessary intent.”

The Court of Appeal will focus on the facts of each individual case and assess whether defendants should have been convicted on the previous lower evidential threshold.

Campaign to overturn convictions

The grassroots organisation Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty By Association has led the campaign to overturn convictions.

Group coordinator Gloria Morrison said: “It makes no sense to find people guilty of murder based purely on foresight alone – the idea that you know what someone is going to do. It is totally illogical and it has led to juries coming to conclusions based on assumptions.”

The group estimates that around 700 individuals could be in line to have their cases reviewed.

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