Joint Enterprise and Murder

Joint enterprise is a doctrine of common law dating back several centuries that has been developed by the courts to allow for more than one person to be charged and convicted of the same crime. If it can be proved that the participants were working together in some way, then they are all guilty of all the crimes committed during the course of their joint enterprise, regardless of the role they played.

Joint enterprise is often likened to conspiracy in which the offence consists of merely agreeing to commit a crime. The one main difference between the two is that a conviction of Joint Enterprise leads to a conviction for the actual offence alleged for example murder.

The supporters of Joint Enterprise argue that it ensures that those who encourage or participate in gang crimes or other violent crimes are held responsible for their actions and that it deters further violence. It has been used to secure convictions in a number of high profile murder cases, including Stephen Lawrence and Ben Kinsella. Those against the use of Joint Enterprise argue that it is leading to wrongful convictions of people who were only on the periphery of a crime, but who will, nevertheless, be sentenced to mandatory life sentences in the case of murder.

Whilst the doctrine of Joint Enterprise applies to all crimes it is currently being heavily criticised and is receiving a great deal of media attention for its use in murder cases. The BBC has recently commissioned a television documentary relating to the doctrine entitled “Guilty By Association” and a television drama entitled “Common” which both aired in June 2014. Both programmes focused on the doctrine of Joint Enterprise and its impact in serious offences such as murder. “Guilty By Association” focused on families who were dealing with the harsh reality of Joint Enterprise and its consequences.

Ben Kinsella was murdered in June 2008 by a group of youths in London. The doctrine of Joint Enterprise was used in this case to convict three males of the murder. Ben’s family appeared in “Guilty By Association” and his father George Kinsella said:

“If it wasn’t for joint enterprise those that had cornered our son, watched and encouraged as he was stabbed and then did nothing to help him as he bled to death would likely be walking the streets today. In five seconds he was stabbed 11 times and I hold them all responsible. If anyone disagrees with joint enterprise then they need to talk to the families of the victims of gang violence. Then they might change their mind”.

Alexander Henry had been shopping with three friends in 2013. On the way back home, Alexander and a friend came across two friends who were involved in an altercation with another group of males. Alexander jumped to the defence of his friends and threw a punch and threw a mobile phone at the victims head. The victims mum then appeared and in the interim, one friend, Cameron, produced a knife and fatally stabbed the victim. Cameron pleaded guilty to the offence and the others pleaded not guilty to murder. Alexander was convicted of Murder in March 2014 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 19 years. He is currently appealing the conviction. Alexander’s sister, Charlotte, at the end of her brother’s trial said:

“Cameron’s actions on that day took Taqui’s life away from him and left a family devastated. But this law has also taken two more victims. My brother and his friend Janel, who are now going to be serving life sentences for a murder they did not commit and two more families are devastated and two mothers hearts’ broken. Something needs to change … there are no winners in this is there that’s for sure”.

 Sir Anthony Hopper, former Lord Justice of Appeal, was featured in “Guilty By Association” expressing his opinion that joint enterprise is inappropriate for use in murder matters expressing that the offence of murder requires intention to kill or seriously harm another and this cannot be proven using Joint Enterprise. Proving a lack of knowledge is not an easy task as you can never fully know what another person did or did not know.

Nigel Leskin, Defence Solicitor, said that

“[its] all complete speculation but that’s how joint enterprise works”.

It would seem that Joint Enterprise is a doctrine that is no longer working for more serious offences such as murder. It has potential to convict innocent people of a crime they haven’t committed and doesn’t necessarily find them guilty for the crimes that they have committed. The Law Commission has been trying to push for reform of this doctrine and its review but each time it has, the government has stopped it.

 Should you or anyone you know be accused of a joint enterprise crime and need help then please contact our Crime Department at our Leicester office on 0116 2554855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610312.