Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) held a demonstration outside Downing St on 16 May to demand the freedom of prisoners incarcerated by the law on joint enterprise. The grassroots campaign is currently supporting over 600 men, women and youth (the youngest of which is just 13) that have been locked up for crimes committed by other people. Family members from all over Britain and the north of Ireland called for their innocent relatives to be freed, with the cry, “Joint enterprise is a court full of lies”. These prisoners have been convicted using an archaic law called joint enterprise, which was originally intended and used to stop the aristocracy duelling against each other. If one duellist killed another then all involved in that duel, including the surgeons, were charged with murder. Now the law continues to allow the courts to convict people for crimes like murder on little or no evidence. Making a phone call is enough to convict someone if the person making or receiving the call goes on to commit a crime.
The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have used the joint enterprise law to send down mainly young people with mandatory sentences for crimes they have not committed. Nearly 80 per cent of victims have come from the black and ethnic minority community. The alleged “gang” affiliation is disproportionately used to secure convictions for black youth.
A survey called Dangerous Associations, carried out by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, found that, in their study of nearly 250 serving prisoners, black and ethnic minority people have been victims of racist criminal justice practices. The report confirms that such prisoners have been unfairly identified by the police as members of dangerous “gangs”.
In the north of Ireland this law is also well known. Mass arrests of youth for allegedly fighting British soldiers was a feature of joint enterprise application prior to the Peace Process. Has it now gone away? Not a bit. The case of the Craigavon Two, where Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton were convicted of the killing of a policeman, is widely regarded as a blatant miscarriage of justice that has resulted from joint enterprise.
These men were also convicted in a Diplock Court, where there is no jury and a single judge presides over proceedings. Family members joined the JENGbA demonstration in London demanding an immediate review of all cases of joint enterprise. The Craigavon Two is the latest in a long line of British miscarriages of justice: Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven, Judith Ward, and so on.
Their conviction and the four years Brendan and John Paul have already served in Maghaberry prison are blatantly unjust. Even the wife of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll has stated herself that she believed her husband’s killers were still not apprehended.
Free the innocent
After several years of campaigning, JENGbA won a significant victory when the Supreme Court judges in February ruled that the law on joint enterprise had taken a wrong turn since 1984.
In effect the law was being abused and misinterpreted. However, that does not necessarily affect those who are currently serving life sentences.
JENGbA is calling on the government to “devise a legal framework to enable a blanket annulment of all the joint enterprise convictions gained in the full knowledge that the person convicted was not actually guilty of the index offence and one that would ensure that no individuals would have to fight their cases separately, as well as establishing the compensation fund”.
The Supreme Court judgement decided that any wrong turn should be corrected. If the law has got it wrong for over 30 years, then it is time to exonerate the victims. It is time to free the innocent!