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Supreme Court rules that joint enterprise law was misinterpreted for thirty years

The cases heard were appeals against murder convictions which had been based on the principle of joint enterprise.  The appellants alleged that the cases of Chan Wing-Siu (1985) and Powell and English (1999) and the cases which followed them had been wrongly decided.

In Jogee’s case, it was alleged that he encouraged his co-defendant to commit murder, although he was not inside the house when the incident took place. 

The principle of joint enterprise set out in the case of Chan Wing-Siu is that if two people set out to commit an offence and in the course of the deed one of them commits an additional offence, the other person is guilty as an accessory had he foreseen that the perpetrator might have acted as he did.  For example, as in the case of Ruddock, if D1 and D2 break into a house to commit robbery, based on the fact that D2 knew that D1 carried a knife, it could be proved that he had foreseen the possibility that D1 might stab someone.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the secondary party must intend to assist or encourage someone to commit the crime to secure a conviction.  It decided that Chan Wing-Siu and Powell and English were wrong in principle because they required only that the secondary party foresaw the possibility that his companion might commit the other offence.  Foresight is not a sufficient test to convict someone of murder and it does not equate with intent.

While the appellants’ murder convictions were set aside, there was evidence in Jogee’s case that he was guilty of at least manslaughter and might, on proper direction, have been found guilty of murder.

What does this decision mean?

The Supreme Court makes it clear that persons may be still be found guilty where they intentionally encourage or assist someone to commit an offence.  Anyone who participates in a crime involving a risk of harm and death results, is at least guilty of manslaughter.

The decision does not mean that all convictions arrived at through the old application of the law are invalid.  While appeals should be made within the time limit, the Court of Appeal may grant leave to appeal out of time in cases of substantial injustice.

Link to Court press summary is available here. You may access BBC News article here.

Criminal Law, Miscarriages of Justice