Friday, 19 February 2016

Joint Enterprise decision: what does it mean for those already convicted?

Yesterday, 18th February 2016, was a significant day in legal history. The Supreme Court handed down its decision in the conjoined cases of R v Jogee; Ruddock v The Queen, and in doing so changed the law regarding what is commonly known as ‘joint enterprise’, but which may more accurately be referred to as ‘parasitic accessory liability’.

The basic scenario is this: A and B are together committing a crime, offence X. Offence X may be almost anything but it is commonly burglary or robbery. During the course of offence X, A then commits a further crime, offence Y. Once again, offence Y may be anything, but in most high-profile examples, offence Y is murder. The question is, what is B’s liability for offence Y?

Clearly A is guilty of the full offence Y. But B may not have expected A to commit offence Y. Or perhaps B thought that A might commit offence Y but hoped that he would not. Or perhaps B thought that A would commit offence Y, and hoped that he would. There is a wide variety of possible circumstances that the law has to grapple with in considering B’s potential liability for offence Y.

In general, a secondary party (B) can be found guilty of an offence (Y) committed by another (A) if B ‘encouraged or assisted’ A in doing the offence. This principle is unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision – in fact, it has been reinforced.

What the Supreme Court has decided is simply this: if B foresaw that A might commit offence Y, and continued to participate in offence X, he will not automatically be guilty of offence Y. The jury will have to decide whether B intended to encourage or assist A to commit offence Y. His foresight of offence Y will be evidence that he may have intended to encourage or assist A in committing the offence, but it will not automatically mean that he definitely intended to encourage or assist A.

This ruling is undoubtedly very significant for future cases of joint enterprise. Those who were ‘on the periphery’, who got caught up in a bad crowd, or who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, are much less likely to be convicted of a serious offence and now more likely to be convicted of a lesser offence. For example, some people who would under the old law have been convicted of murder, will now be convicted of manslaughter. That is still a serious offence, but far from murder.


What will happen to those already convicted? The Supreme Court made it very clear that this ruling does not mean that a large number of those already convicted will have their convictions quashed or altered. They would need to prove that there has been a substantial injustice before the Court of Appeal will take that step. However, anyone who considers that their case might be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling should certainly contact a firm of solicitors with expertise in appeals, who may be able to assist them in considering whether this case could be used in their particular circumstances.

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