This blog by Greg Stewart, criminal appeal specialist and head of GT Stewart solicitors, assesses the new Joint Enterprise landscape following the long-awaited Supreme Court Judgment in R v JOGEE
Criminal lawyers have gone from an aridly dry January (1) to fabulous, celebratory wet February – even for such a well soaked profession. How often does our highest court declare that we have all been getting the law seriously wrong for over 30 years?! Even less often I would say than Government Ministers suddenly reverse their views on whistle blowers and protests from criminal defence lawyers. (2)
Of course the Supreme Court have sought to make it clear that the clarification made to the common law by R v Jogee and Rudduck v The Queen  UKSC 8 & 7 is not “unprecedented”– it’s just that you, me, the bar including umpteen queen’s counsel, and the senior judiciary had been looking at the wrong precedents for more than three decades, or more accurately, overlooking the right ones.
Indeed, a cynical jurist may just smell a political strain that is not unrelated to what is happening in other areas of criminal justice – we have a Justice “Ministry” (with all the evangelical zeal that implies) that now lambasts it’s own civil servants for the failings of the prison system, allows the restocking of prison libraries and generally enlisting the values of the New Testament in place of the Old. In doing so there is belated recognition that over those 30 years the prison population has doubled. The proportion of young people incarcerated in this Country, despite recent reversals, remains scandalously high.
This judgment will go a long way to stopping the interminable waste of young people – disproportionately black – rotting in detention centres and prisons for year after year well beyond condign punishment or meaningful rehabilitation.
Joint Enterprise Law- a pre-Jogee history
For those of you who have not had a chance to study the judgement, the Supreme Court reviewed the evolution of the common law principles of joint enterprise (or common purpose) from the 19th century. It noted about then there was an important clarification away from the belief that it was sufficient that the conduct of the principal was a probable consequence of the common purpose, it had to be part of the common purpose. This identified the fundamental distinction: whilst a probable consequence was always going to be an important consideration for a jury when deciding what the common purpose of the defendants was, it was not sufficient on its own to fix criminal liability. The judgment highlights the important (but until now overlooked) line of authority from:-
R v Collison (1831) 4 Car & P 565 – an accomplice of an apple thief who attacked the landowner’s watchman with a bludgeon would only be guilty if that was part of the common purpose should resistance be encountered;
R v Skeet (1866) 4 F & F 931 – poachers routinely carry weapons and it is necessary to find a common design or intention, beyond poaching, to kill or cause grievous bodily harm for homicide;
R v Spraggett  Crim LR 840 – a burglar’s conviction for the killing by his co-accomplice was not safe where the trial judge wrongly directed that a common intention to commit a burglary was the same as a common intention to commit violence;
R V Reid  62 Cr App R 109 – the appellant was correctly convicted of manslaughter – not murder – when he attended the home of an army colonel in the early hours of the morning with others who were carrying weapons including firearms as the common purpose was clearly to cause harm even though he did not intend death or grievous bodily harm (though he might have been said to foresee it).
However, in Chang Wing-Siu  AC 168 the Privy Council extended the doctrine beyond this – three appellants had gone to the flat of a prostitute to rob her husband carrying knives which were in fact used to slash her and kill him. They complained about a direction at trial that they would be guilty if they contemplated a knife might be used with intent to commit serious bodily harm. They said the level of contemplation had to be more than 50%. The PC rightly rejected that argument but then went on to create a new form of “parasitic accessory liability” where “it turns on contemplation or, putting the same idea in other words, authorization, which may be express but is more usually implied. It meets the case of a crime foreseen as a possible incident of the common unlawful enterprise. The criminal liability lies in participating in the venture with that foresight”.
This novel development was confirmed by the House of Lords in R v Powell & English  1 AC 1 where Lord Hutton recognised the logical anomaly it created in that the principal who merely foresaw a possibility would not meet the mens rea of murder but the person who had not actually killed would. However, there were strong policy reasons in the area of criminal conduct for holding that to be the case. Lord Steyn agreed whilst Lord Mustill also did with more unease. In English’s case his appeal was successful as the knife produced by his co-accused was “fundamentally different” from the wooden post he had used in the joint attack on the police officer.
The Jogee Judgment
The Supreme Court acknowledged that the courts could make the doctrine more severe but only with caution especially for a secondary party. Five reasons swayed them: (1) they had the benefit of a much fuller analysis of important case law; (2) the common law is not working well in practice: (3) it is an important doctrine that has taken a wrong turn; (4) foresight is no more than evidence of intent and (5) it is not right that the liability of a secondary party is set lower than the principal. [paras 80-84]. From now on what matters is whether the accessory encouraged or assisted the crime committed by the principal. “Fundamental departure” is no longer a useful part of the doctrine but merely a consideration of what was foreseeable when weighing up evidential considerations.
Of course, the Supreme Court reminded us that a change in the law does not provide an automatic ground of appeal. And even where it can be argued that the doctrine was misapplied the Court of Appeal will only grant leave to appeal out of time if the applicant can demonstrate a “substantial injustice”. However, given the disparity between a determinate sentence for manslaughter and the mandatory sentence for murder that should not be an insurmountable obstacle – though it may result in a re-trial rather than an acquittal.
What stopped this injustice in the end was the relentless pushing of the lawyers. My client, 16 years old, of good character and 200 yards from the stabbing was refused a certified question by the Court of Appeal three years ago and after 18 months of waiting also denied admissibility by the European Court, so hats off to those who got there. But it would not have happened but for the irresistible weight of a liberal consensus that this was wrong. That consensus had built over the past 5 years thanks to interests groups. These were mainly the parents of young people serving life sentences. They found support from campaigners concerned with youth justice (JENGA and JFK being the most prominent) but it included many journalists (one being Melanie McFadyean at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism) and the media (Fran Robertson – who made Guilty by Association). Whilst there has been an important Law Commission report in 2007, it would have gathered dust, like most, but for the campaigning. That led to parliamentary engagement. In 2011 a Parliamentary Justice Committee started to take evidence from a wide spectrum of those involved including the victims’ families – and it was often the victims (or near victims) in the witness box and the “winning” group in the dock. A consensus grew that joint enterprise as applied to the accessories to a crime and especially murder, was a lottery which had to stop. (3) The lottery had many outlets. It often started with a wide prosecutorial discretion: what an individual lawyer considered foreseeable? Of course across the country different cultures developed and these would determine who got a ticket for this lottery or who got offered a public order charge or was not prosecuted at all. Once in court it depended on the discretion of the lawyers on both sides to advise defendants and victims to accept pleas or proceed with uncertain outcomes. Ultimately the judge was then left to tip toe through labyrinthine jury directions. Finally the burden on juries was huge – as was the consequences for those in the dock. Ultimately, it took our most senior lawyers to admit we had been getting it wrong (or had “taken a wrong turn”as they delicately put it) In fact, it had been a devastating lurch to the right in the criminal law. It’s always political.
Who would have foreseen all this during the depressing days of January?!
Blog by Greg Stewart of GT Stewart, February 2016
1 Civil Rights Editor endured dry January to raise money for cancer relief and can be sponsored here!
2 The celebrations by criminal legal aid lawyers throughout February arose from this statement by Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, over-turning the disastrous, unfair contract tendering scheme introduced by his appallingly inept and hated predecessor Chris Grayling. Leading law firm GT Stewart were one of the firms taking legal action against the MoJ over the botched procurement, and welcomed the climbdown.
3 There were numerous calls for reform by lawyers for years (see eg this recent blog by Ronnie Manek)