Joint Enterprise: Law and Disorder in the UK

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In 2014, Alex Henry was convicted of murder by a law called ‘Joint Enterprise’. The basic premise of his case is as follows: Alex and his friend Cameron – whom he had befriended not long before the crime took place –  were walking home when they saw another of Alex’s friends, Jahnelle, being confronted by a group of four strangers. After running to the group to help Jahnelle, Alex realised he was unable to fight the men off of his friend and so became panicked and unsure what to do. Suddenly, he sees Cameron run up next to him and wield a knife, which Cameron uses to stab one of the assailants – Taqui Kheizihi – resulting in fatal injuries.

Since his conviction of murder and subsequent 19-year sentence, Alex’s mother Sarah has joined the charity Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) in order to campaign to help change the law, but what exactly does Joint Enterprise mean? In simple terms, it is a law by which someone can be charged with murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow themselves. It is used by prosecutors in cases such as Alex’s to convict several members of a group, if it can be proven that they merely had some sort of ‘foresight’ that one of them would commit murder.

To me, not only does this law seem incredibly harsh, given that Alex, who is autistic, was essentially a witness to the crime he has been charged with, but also very unclear; how can you even physically prove a lack of ‘foresight’ and defend yourself with it in a court of law? Also, bear in mind that Alex was not very well-acquainted with Cameron, and Cameron did not tell him that he had a knife and was intending to kill Taqui, so how on earth the prosecutors claimed that Alex had prior-knowledge of the crime is beyond me.

Interestingly, the lack of clarity surrounding Joint Enterprise was discussed by the Supreme Court in 2016, following which they ruled that this law had been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years. Hence, many people serving life sentences for murder under Joint Enterprise, who may only have been remotely ‘involved’ in the incidences, were able to bring their cases in front of the Court of Appeal. However, every single case was rejected, as the Court ruled that the defendants were unable to prove ‘substantial injustice’ had occurred, which may have resulted in an error regarding the jury’s verdict. Surely all injustice is wrong, no? What difference does it make if it is deemed ‘substantial’ or not?

In any case, we can understand why campaign groups like JENGbA want to see changes being made to this law, as there is no real reason for people like Alex to be in prison. It is also paramount to reform Joint Enterprise, so that people in the UK are able to have a fair trial based on hard legal evidence for such a serious crime, and not on ambiguous ill-enforced laws such as this one.

By Michael Turnbull