submitted by: Rosemarie Leclerc
published: 12th January 2012
The Stephen Lawrence murder trial convicted two men out of a wider group of suspects. Their prosecution was brought under the little-understood law of Joint Enterprise. In such cases, those peripherally associated can be found guilty while the actual perpetrators may go free. Joint Enterprise is a means by which slim evidence and “possible foresight” to a crime occurring can be used to convince a jury of more than one persons’ guilt when they may have played a lesser or even no part in what occurred.
While this antiquated legal principle may be convenient, its use to convict all regardless of their actual involvement in a crime effectively turns the well-established cornerstone of British justice called Blackstone’s Ratio on its head so it is “better that ten innocent persons suffer than one guilty escape”.
JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) knows of over 270 cases of prisoners convicted under Joint Enterprise who protest they are innocent of the index offence.
The Lawrence case in no way represents a success story for Joint Enterprise law. It shows the failures of Joint Enterprise, and this is because the Lawrence family and the public alike still do not know who actually murdered Stephen Lawrence over 18 years ago, or whether that person is still walking free. The Joint Enterprise doctrine encourages a “wall of silence” amongst those suspected of involvement or knowledge of a crime. This case has highlighted the use of the old law, and its flaws, showing that new guidance is urgently needed to avoid more innocent people languishing in prison while guilty people walk free.
Campaigners at JENGbA hope the current House of Commons Justice Select Committee Inquiry into Joint Enterprise will endorse the need for reform, and will acknowledge the past wrongs done in its name. “It is time for Joint Enterprise law to be seriously revised so that innocent people are no longer serving life sentences for other people’s crimes. Our prisons are already overcrowded, and we need to be imprisoning those who are a danger to the public, not bystanders to other people’s crimes”, added Gloria Morrison, campaign spokesman.
(For more information, please contact JENGbA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07709 115 793)