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Supreme Court Judgment on Joint Enterprise Law

Response to today’s joint enterprise ruling from Sean Caulfield, criminal partner, Hodge Jones & Allen:

Today’s Supreme Court joint enterprise ruling is a seismic shift that will change the outcome of future criminal court cases. We’ve begun an immediate review of our historic and recent cases to see where this decision may be applied.

The joint enterprise law has attracted a lot of controversy over the last few years. In short, it applied to secondary parties in criminal offences. Not the wielder of the knife or the person who fires the gun but the person behind them. The person who is said to have lent support or encouragement to the perpetrator.

The test since 1984 was whether this second person had foreseen the possibility that the knife man would commit a serious assault. If this second person foresaw this, he was as guilty as the perpetrator. Yet today the Supreme Court ruled that in 1984 the law took a wrong turn and has imposed a new equally simple test: To convict a secondary party it now must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt that they “had an intention to assist or encourage the main party or offender”. Any foresight of the consequences of what might happen would be evidence of an intention of the second person, but would not on its own be sufficient.

This Judgment does not overturn previous convictions automatically. However, the Court of Appeal are highly likely to receive a series of appeals based on today’s decision. Many of these appeals will be out of time, but they will cite this decision as a reason their case should be heard outside the time limit. As a result I expect the CPS may change their decisions on who is charged and with what. No doubt juries will receive the new direction from Judges in forthcoming trials. Some defendants who previously would have been convicted of murder may now be convicted of lesser offences or wholly acquitted.