Joint enterprise principle ‘wrongly interpreted’ – Supreme Court

Topics: Criminal justice,Courts business

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The law allowing people to be convicted of murder under the controversial principle of ‘joint enterprise’, has been wrongly interpreted for 30 years, the Supreme Court ruled today. 

In R v Jogee (appellant) the Supreme Court ruled that judges took a ‘wrong turn’ in the 1980s in the way they interpreted the law, in a judgment which may allow many convicted under the principle to appeal their convictions.

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In a unanimous decision, a panel of five Supreme Court justices said that ‘foresight’ is not the sole evidence of intent to assist or encourage. The law had meant defendants would be convicted if they could have foreseen that a murder or violent act was likely to take place.

The decision came after the Supreme Court considered the appeal of two men, Ameen Jogee and Ruddock, who had both been convicted of murder under the joint enterprise law.

Lawyers welcomed the ‘long-overdue’ review of the law, which they said could have a far-reaching impact.

Sandra Paul, criminal lawyer at Kingsley Napley LLP, said: ‘The ripples from today’s decision will transform the fairness of future trials and potentially the whole lives of those who would otherwise have been caught in the joint enterprise trap. Guilt by association fails to provide justice for those accused or victims of crime.’

Maria Theodoulou, partner at Stokoe Partnership Solicitors said: ‘It is an outrage that it has taken our courts over 30 years to correct this fundamental "error". This ruling will reverberate with those who have been convicted of joint enterprise offences but does not mean automatically mean that they can appeal their convictions and have the justice they deserve.'

Sophie Walker, director of the Centre for Criminal Appeals, said the judgment offers lifelines to those serving sentences as a result of the ‘disproportionate and ill-used doctrine’.

She added: ‘There is further to go to ensure that joint enterprise doctrine is properly contained, and we look forward to future litigation or a review of the law as it currently stands that achieves this.’

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘The application of the doctrine of joint enterprise has been perceived to cause unfairness in a number of cases. We welcome the clarification of the law that the Supreme Court has provided in this significant decision, and we are sure that our members practising in this area of law will carefully consider the affect of this decision.’

Watch the decision here:

Readers' comments (13)

  • I'm a mere Conveyancing solicitor- but here goes!

    This case surely raises again the issue of why the Law Commission's draft Criminal code exercise stopped.

    Only by rationalising all 'mens rea' issues and reformulating all major criminal law Acts- into a nice, tidy, single Act- can the law achieve a degree of certainty.

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  • Codification is a great idea, but it's no panacea. Even the most expertly-drafted statute will always require interpretation, particularly on issues as complex as mens rea. A great example of this would be Canada, which codified the criminal law in 1892 and has spent much of the last century or so adjusting that ever-expanding and ever-more unwieldy Criminal Code in response to unexpected or unpopular judicial treatment.

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  • Having practised in a former colonial nation I would offer the fact that our practice was to provide overseas territories with both Civil and Criminal Codes. These were excellently drafted, and made practising simpler.

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  • Codification, a good idea? Wasn't the CPR intended as a codification of the RSC, CCR and the plethora of decisions that caused the White Book and the Green Book to grow like Topsy. With the benefit of hindsight, how many practitioners consider the CPR, as a civil practice code, to have been a worthwhile, beneficial exercise for which we are all significantly better off?

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  • Two thoughts.

    This case demonstrates the beauty of the Common Law, which can look at a hallowed principle and say its wrong.

    Second. Codes cannot cover every point. Here - either side of this decision - a jury will decide on which side on the facts as found you will fall.

    I seem to recall being told (David, please help) that it was an offence in France to pass a road accident and not help, but if you did and it went wrong, then that was an offence too. Sensible actually, if all you can do is phone for an ambulance then do it; but what if you were a Premier Aider at work and were on your way to a party and only called the ambulance? Just asking?

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  • And where were you all these years, M'lud, when these 'errors' were being committed? Not on the bench passing judgement surely..?

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  • Not sure Ravi if your message was meant for me.

    The answer to it is yes. I swore to uphold the law, and I did. If the law was changed by a superior court, or parliament then I applied that. The alternative is chaos.

    When I started in the law, many of the trials at Assize involved homosexuals. We have, thankfully, in my opinion moved on. The judges couldn't do much about it.

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  • One wonders what was Parliament's intent and why it took thirty years to come to this conclusion?



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  • My intellect may be failing, but I wonder whether I am alone in finding the third paragraph of this article, which purports to summarise the effect of the decision, totally incomprehensible. Further investigation shows what the writer meant, but she really didn't say it.

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  • Yes, Richard, that first proposition of yours is correct. There is a positive obligation, sanctioned by the criminal law, to stop and help and injured party. I shall have to look into the other scenarios you mention. There certainly are in general terms a lot of positive obligations enforced by the criminal code.

    If you watch Lord Newburger give his judgment he admits that the HofL/Sc has in the past got this wrong. Well, got it differently anyway from Thursday's decision. One might discuss who was right and who was wrong...

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