A Labour government would reform the law of joint enterprise that has led to hundreds of mostly young men unjustly serving life sentences for murder, David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, has told a protest rally at Westminster.
Organised by the campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association (JENGbA), which is threatening a judicial review legal challenge of the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, the rally was attended by about 200 family members and supporters of young people serving long sentences after joint enterprise convictions.
Under the law, people can be convicted of murder even if they did not commit the violent fatal acts, if they are found to have “encouraged or assisted” the person who wielded the fatal blows. JENGbA argues that the law, which is applied in prosecutions of spontaneous group violence, has led to bystanders, or people who were involved in much lesser violence, to be convicted of the most serious crimes.
Lawyers, MPs, campaigners and a series of academic studies have argued that joint enterprise is racially discriminatory, because young black men are more frequently accused of being in gangs – and therefore having a common group intention to commit violence – than young white men.
Gloria Morrison, co-founder of the campaign, told the rally: “JENGbA’s campaign is based on love – we love our families. If [our loved ones] had done something wrong, we would still love them, but we wouldn’t be on the streets fighting that they had been wrongfully convicted.”
Lammy told the rally: “I stand in solidarity with you and we will get there, we will change this law. It is shoddy law, it’s outdated, it’s backward. How can you be in custody for years and years and years when you weren’t anywhere near a crime? How can you be in custody if you simply withdrew from a crime that was being committed? How can you be in prison because you were in the park but were nowhere near the murder that was being committed? That is the kind of injustice that is being done in the name of joint enterprise and it has to end.”
A particular focus for campaigners is a legal limit put on appeals despite a 2016 decision by supreme court judges when overturning the murder conviction of a Leicester man, Ameen Jogee, that the joint enterprise law “took a wrong turn” with an interpretation in 1984. For 32 years after that, people were convicted, having been involved in an incident of violence, if they “foresaw” that the victim could be killed by somebody else. The supreme court ruled that this was wrong, and that people could only be convicted of murder if they intended death or serious harm – and gave encouragement or assistance to the perpetrator.
Yet despite the Jogee decision, the court of appeal subsequently ruled that convictions cannot be overturned unless appellants can prove they have suffered “substantial injustice.” JENGbA and their supporters argue that in effect this means that people have to prove their innocence in the court of appeal rather than have their conviction quashed and be allowed a retrial. Only one man, John Crilly, has succeeded with an appeal based on the Jogee finding that the law was wrong previously. Crilly attended the rally in Parliament Square, telling families that he felt “survivors’ guilt,” and they must “keep fighting.”
The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, a long-term supporter of JENGbA, told the rally he was “deeply concerned there has been so little response from the justice system, leaving families without proper redress”.
Lammy said that when Keir Starmer appointed him to the shadow post: “The first thing I said to my staff: ‘If I get in that job and I’m justice secretary, this is going to end.’”
The Joint Enterprise, Not Guilty by Association (JENGBA) campaign has been contacted by 1500 people, mostly convicted of murder and serving life sentences, who protest that they are not guilty of that offence. Some of the most prominent joint enterprise convictions regarded by campaigners as miscarriages of justice are:
The Moss Side Case
One teenager fatally stabbed Abdul Hafidah, 18, after a chase in May 2016, but six more teenagers were convicted of his murder, four more of his manslaughter. All are black or mixed race. They were portrayed as a gang who “controlled territory” in the inner city Manchester suburb of Moss Side, but no evidence was presented of criminal gang activity; eight of the defendants had no convictions or no relevant convictions. Their case is supported by Lucy Powell, the local Labour MP; prominent academics and youth workers who knew several of the teenagers and say they were not in a gang.
Brown, 22, from Dudley, was diagnosed with autism at 16 and has learning disabilities and other mental health difficulties. He was convicted in 2018 of robbery, attempted robbery and perverting the course of justice, with joint enterprise forming part of the prosecution’s case. Despite having moved from Jamaica to England with his family aged four, the government was preparing to deport him to Jamaica last year, after he had served three years in prison. The Home Office finally decided not to do so last month after an outcry and campaign by his family and supporters. His lawyers are still working to appeal against his conviction.
The teenager’s mother, Jan Cunliffe, co-founded JENGBA after her son was convicted of murder aged 15, with two others. The killing of Garry Newlove, 47, outside his house in Warrington prompted national shock, but Newlove died due to one fatal blow from one of the other teenagers. Jordan Cunliffe had an eye condition that made him eligible to be registered as a blind person, and a medical report for his trial described him as “unable to perform any tasks for which vision is necessary.” Cunliffe served 13 years in prison before he was released.
A 25-year-old black Londoner convicted of murder in 2013, Johnson’s was one of the cases appealed following the 2016 supreme court ruling that juries had been misdirected on the joint enterprise law for 32 years. Denied an appeal on the basis that he had not suffered “substantial injustice”,” and with all other legal avenues closed, his lawyers filed a “petition for mercy” to the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, last June.