Understanding Joint Enterprise: How It Impacts Wrongful Convictions Every Day

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Understanding Joint Enterprise: How It Impacts Wrongful Convictions

The Joint Enterprise doctrine, a controversial legal principle in the UK, has led to numerous wrongful convictions, including that of Kevan Thakrar. This article provides an in-depth analysis of Joint Enterprise, examining its application, inherent flaws, and significant impact on the justice system. By exploring high-profile cases and legal criticisms, we highlight the urgent need for reform and the broader implications for individuals like Kevan Thakrar.

The Joint Enterprise Doctrine Explained

Joint Enterprise, also known as Common Purpose, is a legal doctrine that allows for the prosecution of individuals who may not have directly committed a crime but are deemed to have been part of a group with a common intent to commit the offence. Under this doctrine, an individual can be convicted of a crime committed by another person if it is established that they foresaw the possibility of the crime being committed and continued to participate in the venture.

Legal Framework

The legal basis for Joint Enterprise in the UK is derived from common law principles and judicial interpretations. Key cases, such as R v. Powell and English [1999] 1 AC 1, established that foresight of the crime by any member of the group could lead to a conviction under Joint Enterprise. The concept is further underpinned by several sections within the UK’s legal framework:

  • Section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861: This section outlines the liability of accessories and abettors, stating that anyone who aids, abets, counsels, or procures the commission of an indictable offence shall be liable to be tried and punished as a principal offender.

  • Section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007: This section relates to the intention to assist or encourage the commission of an offence, focusing on the mental element of intent rather than mere association.

  • R v. Jogee [2016] UKSC 8: This landmark Supreme Court ruling clarified that mere foresight of the possibility that a crime might be committed does not suffice for a conviction under Joint Enterprise. Instead, there must be an intention to assist or encourage the principal offender.

“A striking illustration of the unsatisfactory state of the law is that we cannot confidently describe the precise scope of joint enterprise liability.” – William Wilson and David Ormerod QC (source: UKSC Blog).

Legal Criticisms and Calls for Reform

The Joint Enterprise doctrine has been widely criticised by legal scholars, human rights organisations, and advocacy groups. Key criticisms include:

  • Over-Broad Application: Joint Enterprise allows for the prosecution of individuals with minimal involvement, often based on weak or circumstantial evidence.

    “Joint enterprise ‘can work like a drift net, catching little fish as well as big ones, and lumping them together. In murder cases, joint enterprise and the mandatory life sentence taken together can result in sentences out of all proportion to the culpability of offenders who were marginally involved.’” – Francis FitzGibbon QC (source: The Justice Gap).

  • Disproportionate Impact on Minorities: Studies have shown that Joint Enterprise disproportionately affects ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Asian communities, leading to systemic biases in the justice system.

    “The application of Joint Enterprise has revealed stark racial disparities, disproportionately impacting minority communities and exacerbating issues of systemic injustice.”

  • Lack of Direct Intent: The doctrine’s reliance on foresight rather than direct intent undermines fundamental principles of criminal justice, where individuals should be held accountable for their actions rather than their associations.

    “The principle of foresight as applied in Joint Enterprise undermines the core tenet of criminal liability, which is the presence of direct intent to commit the crime.”

Why People Should Care

The flaws in the Joint Enterprise doctrine have significant implications for justice and human rights in the UK. Wrongful convictions not only devastate the lives of those directly affected but also undermine public confidence in the legal system. Cases like Kevan Thakrar’s highlight the urgent need for reform to ensure that justice is served fairly and accurately.

“Reforming Joint Enterprise is not just about correcting past wrongs; it’s about ensuring that our justice system is fair, just, and upholds the principles of individual responsibility and accountability.” 

High-Profile Cases of Wrongful Conviction

Several high-profile cases demonstrate the profound flaws in the application of Joint Enterprise, leading to wrongful convictions and long-term imprisonment of innocent individuals.

The Case of Derek Bentley

Derek Bentley was hanged in 1953 for the murder of a police officer, a crime actually committed by his accomplice, Christopher Craig. Bentley, who had learning difficulties, was convicted under Joint Enterprise for allegedly inciting Craig to shoot. The case was a significant miscarriage of justice, leading to Bentley’s posthumous pardon in 1998.

“The posthumous pardon of Derek Bentley was a recognition of the grave miscarriage of justice he suffered. His case remains a poignant example of the need for legal safeguards to protect vulnerable individuals.”

The Case of Ameen Jogee

A landmark case in 2016, R v. Jogee fundamentally challenged the principles of Joint Enterprise. Ameen Jogee was convicted of murder under Joint Enterprise, despite not directly committing the act. The UK Supreme Court ruled that the law had been misapplied for over 30 years, leading to numerous wrongful convictions. This ruling necessitated a re-evaluation of many past convictions under Joint Enterprise.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Jogee and Ruddock was a significant step towards correcting the misuse of Joint Enterprise. It has opened the door for many to seek justice for wrongful convictions.” 

Kevan Thakrar’s Case

Kevan Thakrar’s conviction in 2008 under Joint Enterprise for a triple murder exemplifies the issues with this legal doctrine. Despite maintaining his innocence and presenting new forensic evidence, Thakrar remains imprisoned. His case highlights the broader implications of Joint Enterprise and the urgent need for legal reform to prevent future miscarriages of justice.

Kevan Thakrar: Implications for His Case

Kevan Thakrar’s case shares many similarities with these high-profile wrongful convictions. The new forensic evidence and judicial review could be pivotal in overturning his conviction. Moreover, the attention drawn to the misuse of the Joint Enterprise law could provide a broader context for re-evaluating his case.

Kevan’s prolonged solitary confinement and the severe impact on his mental health further underscore the need for urgent prison reforms. His story, coupled with the historical cases of wrongful conviction, highlights the importance of ongoing vigilance, advocacy, and legal reform to ensure justice for all.

“Kevan Thakrar’s case is a powerful example of the need for systemic change in the justice system. His fight for justice continues to inspire and highlight the critical need for reform.” 

Conclusion

The Joint Enterprise doctrine, as currently applied, has led to numerous miscarriages of justice, including high-profile cases such as those of Derek Bentley, Ameen Jogee, and Kevan Thakrar. The legal and ethical issues surrounding this doctrine underscore the urgent need for comprehensive reform. By understanding and addressing these flaws, we can work towards a more just and equitable legal system.

Sources

  1. Ormerod, D. (2016). Joint Enterprise: The Misapplication of the Law. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
  2. Mansfield, M. (2009). Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  3. Chakrabarti, S. (2014). On Liberty. Allen Lane.
  4. Peirce, G. (2010). Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice. Verso Books.
  5. Bentley, D. (1998). Derek Bentley: The Posthumous Pardon. Ministry of Justice.
  6. The Canary. (2023). High Court hears how Kevan Thakrar has been kept in solitary confinement for refusing a psychiatric assessment.
  7. The Canary. (2023). Solitary confinement: Kevan Thakrar in high court challenge.
  8. The Canary. (2023). Call to support Kevan Thakrar, held in the ‘most restrictive’ conditions in the UK prison system.

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