The legal doctrine of Joint Enterprise remains controversial in murder cases because of the stakes involved.
For the families of victims, it is a law that helps to bring to justice all those who took part in a gang attack and not just the person who inflicted the fatal injury.
But for some suspects and their families it feels more like ‘guilt by association’, condemning young men to spend decades in prison for a crime they did not personally commit. (see this letter from the mother of one man convicted of murder)
The law is not always simple and depends on the individual case (see the CPS guidance on the subject). The most common example used to explain joint enterprise to jury involves a robbery. Under joint enterprise the lookout and the getaway driver are just as guilty as the robber. This makes sense, as they knew what the plan was and the robbery would not be as successful without them.
In murder cases, joint enterprise is used when the prosecution claim that a suspect took part knowing or foresaw that really serious harm might be inflicted. So if a group attack the victim but only one of them uses a knife to inflict fatal injuries, the jury has to decide whether the others knew that principal suspect was armed with a knife and foresaw that he might use it to inflict really serious harm.
Two weeks ago this issue was highlighted by a report by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, prompting renewed calls for reform of the law (just as there were in 2012).
To illustrate joint enterprise in murder cases in London we looked at a single year, 2012, when it was used in at least nineteen of the 99 cases (just under 20 per cent). There are also several examples of only one person being charged even though the murder took place against the background of gang or group violence. Two of them are the case of Thomas Overton, who was stabbed to death in Leyton in August 2012 and Liam Woodards, who was stabbed to death in Stratford in June 2012.
So it is clear that juries are capable of rejecting prosecutions based on joint enterprise. Does that mean the system is working well or is there still need for reform to remove the risk of injustice?
2012 Joint Enterprise cases:
1 January – Aaron McKoy, 22, was shot dead in Clerkenwell after a mass brawl broke out at a bar. The gunman and five other men alleged to be part of the gang violence were charged with murder. Only the gunman was convicted of murder.
1 February – Ali Armagan, 32, was shot dead in a gangland execution in Turnpike Lane. Five men were charged with murder although none were alleged to be the gunmen. All were cleared.
2 March – Kwame Ofosu-Asare, 17, was chased and stabbed to death in Brixton. Two men were charged with murder. Both were convicted.
16 April – Carole Waugh, 49, was stabbed to death at her home in Maida Vale. Two men who admitted defrauding the victim were charged with murder but only one was convicted.
18 April – David Petch, 55, died of a head injuries after being attacked in New Addington. A man and a woman were charged with murder as it was the prosecution case that both took part in the fatal attack. The woman was acquitted and the man was convicted only of manslaughter.
19 May – Luke Fitzpatrick, 25, was stabbed to death in Dollis Hill. Three men were charged with murder. Two of them (one was said to have inflicted the fatal injury and another was linked by DNA to a knife found at the scene) were convicted by the jury. The third was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter.
28 May – Luke Harwood, 28, was battered to death in Woodford Green. Four men and a woman were charged with murder. The charge against one man was dropped before trial. The jury convicted the woman and two men of murder and acquitted the third man.
8 June – Prabjot Singh Rayat, 54, was stabbed to death in a robbery in Thamesmead. Two men and a woman were charged with murder. Only one of the suspects inflicted the fatal injury. The two men were convicted of murder while the woman was convicted only of robbery.
15 July – Umar Tufail, 25, was shot dead in a drive-by attack in South Norwood. Two men were charged with murder. One suspect blamed the other for the shooting and claimed he had no knowledge of what was to happen. Both were convicted.
1 August – Nathaniel Brown, 16, was stabbed to death at a party in Downham. Three teenagers were charged with murder. One admitted inflicting the fatal injuries in self defence. The other two were present and fled the scene with the first man. The jury cleared all three of murder.
21 August – Hanad Osman, 24, was stabbed to death in Streatham. Two men were charged with murder. CCTV captured one man stabbing the victim and the prosecution claimed the second bought the knives beforehand and provided a safe house. The jury convicted only the first man.
13 September – Arron Payne, 36, was fatally stabbed in the stomach and thigh in Wembley. Although only one man inflicted the fatal wounds, five men were charged with murder as it was alleged to be a planned revenge attack. The jury convicted only the knife wielder of murder.
27 September – Junior Nkwelle, 15, was stabbed to death in Brixton. Two youths were charged, the boy who inflicted the wounds and the girl accused of encouraging or inciting him to carry out the attack. The jury cleared both of murder but convicted them of manslaughter.
25 October – Jamie Sanderson, 20, was stabbed to death at a nightclub in Kingston. Four men were charged with murder. Two men were convicted, the man who inflicted the stab wounds and the man who handed him the knife.
3 November – Thomas Cudjoe, 29, was stabbed to death in Ilford. Five men were charged with murder, although only one caused the fatal stab wounds. All five were convicted.
10 November – Thierry Gnanakumar, 22, was beaten to death in a suspected gang attack in Lewisham. Eight men were charged with murder but only one was convicted.
19 November – Marcus Innocent, 35, was shot dead with a shotgun after being confronted by a group of up to 20 people. Twelve men were charged with murder although only one fired the fatal shot. The trial is due to take place in June.
20 November – Paula Castle, 85, died after being pushed to the ground by two teenage muggers. Two boys were charged with murder but the prosecution accepted pleas to the charge of manslaughter, accepting that they did not intend to cause really serious harm.
30 December – Darryl McClymont, 23, was stabbed in the heart outside his home in Isleworth. Four men were charged with murder but only two were convicted of the lesser offence of manslaughter.