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Judges Reject Challenge to ‘Joint Enterprise’ Convictions

Judges Reject Challenge to ‘Joint Enterprise’ Convictions

Joint enterprises criminal cases

Appeal court judges have refused to overturn guilty verdicts in the first test case “joint enterprise” challenges brought after a Supreme Court ruling raised the possibility that hundreds of convictions could be unsafe.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the law which has allowed people to be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years. In his judgement, however, Lord Neuberger said the decision did not necessarily mean all previous joint enterprise convictions were unsafe.

The Supreme Court ruling said the so-called “foresight principle” was being misinterpreted, and called on juries to decide “on the whole evidence” whether a person had the “necessary intent” to join in committing a crime. The foresight principle has been used over the years to tackle gang violence. Defendants have been convicted if they could have foreseen that a murder or violent act was likely to take place.

After the Supreme Court ruling, appeals were brought on behalf of 13 men who had been convicted of group attack murders in six separate crimes.

The panel of Appeal Court judges, led by the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, examined the cases of the men affected by the principle, technically known as “parasitic accessorial liability”.

They focused on the facts of each individual case to test whether the defendants should have been convicted.

But in none of them did they deem the convictions to be unsafe.

‘No injustice, let alone substantial injustice,’ say judges

Delivering judgment in one of the cases, the judges said: “Given the jury’s findings of fact, their verdicts would have been no different [in the light of the ruling by the Supreme Court]. We refuse leave as we are satisfied that there was no injustice, let alone substantial injustice.” The panel made similar observations in the other cases.

Before announcing the test case decisions, Lord Thomas said it was “important to emphasise” a particular paragraph in the ruling of the Supreme Court.

He said the “effect of putting the law right is not to render invalid all convictions which were arrived at over many years by faithfully applying the law” as previously laid down.

Lord Thomas said: “As the Supreme Court stated . . . a long line of authority clearly establishes that if a person was properly convicted on the law as it then stood, the court will not grant leave [to appeal] without it being demonstrated that a substantial injustice would otherwise be done . . The need to establish substantial injustice results from the wider public interest in legal certainty and the finality of decisions made in accordance with the then clearly established law.”

Lord Thomas said the court was “satisfied that there was no injustice, let alone substantial injustice”.

Families left in tears by decision

The grassroots campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), which had helped to achieve the landmark Supreme Court ruling, said families of those convicted under the law had been left in tears by the Appeal Court’s decision.

Group co-ordinator Gloria Morrison said: “”Today’s Court of Appeal judgment is a huge disappointment, not just for all the families involved but all those wrongfully convicted ever since the law took a ‘wrong turn’ over 30 years ago . . . It our understanding that the applicants are taking legal advice on whether this judgment can be appealed. JENGbA intends to support them in every way we can.”

Ms. Morrison added: “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.”

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