Dozens of convicted murderers convicted under joint enterprise laws will have appeals heard from Tuesday - four months after the Supreme court set aside the convictions of two killers in a landmark decision.
Around 10 appeals are due to be heard Tuesday, several more are scheduled for next week, and another "block" of conjoined appeals are due to take place in July.
One case involves co-offenders, Nicholas Terrelonge and Tyler Burton, who were jailed for life with a minimum term of 20 years in 2015 for the murder of Ashley Latty. The 25-year-old died after being kicked, punched and stabbed five times outside the Beaver Centre in Dagenham at 5.30am on 18 May 2014.
Terrelonge had rounded up a group of men at a birthday party after he spotted Latty, who he believed had stolen from him.
In February, the Supreme Court set aside the conviction of Ameen Jogee, who was convicted of murder after his friend Mohammed Hirsi stabbed former policeman Paul Fyfe to death in his girlfriend’s house in Leicester in June 2011.
The court ruled the law had been wrongly interpreted for 30 years, saying it took a "wrong turn" in the 1980s. Jogee, who was sentenced to life with a minimum of 20 years, is now set to have a retrial with jurors now able to consider both murder and a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Under joint enterprise laws people could be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow. Defendants simply had to have foreseen violent acts were likely to take place.
The Supreme Court ruled that it was wrong to treat "foresight" as a sufficient test. Instead jurors should view it only as evidence to consider, rather than as proof to convict on, the decision said.
The ruling means prosecutors now have to prove that accomplices actively assisted, or encouraged the principal offender in the killing, to secure a murder conviction. However, in its ruling the Supreme Court said that an accomplice’s foresight of the risk that their companion could cause serious harm that results in death will still be admissible as strong evidence in murder cases and could lead to a conviction for manslaughter.
The Supreme Court decision, commentators speculated in its immediate aftermath, could lead to hundreds of appeals. One victim's widow took that to mean killers will “literally be getting away with murder”.
Simon Natas, a partner at ITN Solicitors, and criminal law specialist, said the Supreme Court decision was "never a question of killers being let out of prison" because "they're not murderers... they should never have been convicted". Rather, he said, the decision could lead to a number of wrongful convictions being quashed.
Natas said dozens of cases involving people convicted under joint enterprise laws were set to be heard, with many having "waited in a queue for the outcome of the Jogee case". He is personally reviewing 80 cases.
Before the ruling, JENGba - Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association - estimated they were working with some 500 criminals convicted under the law. That number now totals 800.
JENGba spokesperson Jan Cunliffe said: "Cases are coming through on a daily basis... at least two or three a week. Prisoners up and down the country are talking about it, talking among themselves. There's big interest in prisons."
Cunliffe said some prisoners did not initially understand that the Supreme Court decision could lead to their release, because "they were convicted in the first place when they didn't even do it... so they just didn't understand".
She added: "This has given a huge amount of people a lot of hope."
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism since 2005 at least 1,800 people and as many as 4,590, have been prosecuted for homicide using joint enterprise. According to JENGba, the youngest person convicted under the law was 13.
Natas said a lot of cases involved people on the "periphery" who had been caught up in "spontaneous acts" that they weren't directly involved in.
"People that are completely blameless... punished way beyond what would be considered proportionate," he said.
In some cases, Natas said, people had been handed life sentences, when they should have been convicted of manslaughter - so instead of being released in five-odd years, they've served 20.
Natas said he hoped the appeals would "put more flesh on the bones" in defining exactly how the Supreme Court decision could be applied to historic cases. The decision, he said, would not lead to a "wholesale quashing of convictions".
Speaking ahead of the Supreme Court decision in February, Tracy Fyfe said she would be “devastated” and “frightened” if Jogee was freed.
She told told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme at the time that she regarded Jogee as culpable for her husband’s death because he knew what Hirsi was doing and was egging him on.
She said: “I think it is a very important law and it think I would be quite devastating for the victims’ families like us, which would mean that criminals like Ameen Jogee would literally be getting away with murder.
“If Ameen Jogee hadn’t been there that night neither would Hirsi. Ameen Jogee was using Hirsi as a weapon. Ameen Jogee intended to hurt somebody that night as he had picked up a knife earlier on and, in his words, he’s threatened to ‘shank’ somebody.
“It’s devastating. We have had four years of appeals, we can’t move on, it just doesn’t seem to stop.”
The Supreme Court decision followed research by criminologists into the law which found “evidence that black and minority ethnic people are serving long prison sentences because of unfair and racist criminal justice practices”. It also found that this group was also “unfairly identified by the police as members of dangerous gangs”, an affiliation which was often used to secure convictions under joint enterprise provisions.
Patrick Williams, who conducted the research, called the Supreme Court decision a “truly significant and remarkable ruling”.
The senior lecturer in sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University told the Huffington Post UK: “Of extreme importance, those women, men and children who were wrongly convicted of murder and are serving lengthy custodial sentences may now have the opportunity to appeal those unjust sentences.”
It was thought the decision could impact cases such as that of Garry Newlove who was murdered in August 2007 by three drunken teenagers when he tried to stop them vandalising his car outside his Warrington, Chesire, home.
Adam Swellings, Stephen Sorton and Jordan Cunliffe, were jailed for life in January 2008. Cunliffe’s mother Janet claims that although he was at the scene he did not take part in the murder and has campaigned against joint enterprise laws.
Newlove’s widow, Baroness Newlove, later became a staunch supporter of victim’s rights. After her husband’s death she set up a number of foundations and was appointed the Victims’ Commissioner by the UK government in 2012. In 2010 she was given a peerage and sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative.
The Supreme Court overturned Jogee’s conviction after concluding that it had been secured on the grounds that he merely had foresight of the potential that Fyfe could suffer life-threatening injuries.
Because Jogee had not been in the room at the time of the killing, the justices said, it had not been proven that he had actively encouraged the crime.
President of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger, said: “This does not mean that a person who took part in unlawful venture which any reasonable person would realise carried the risk of causing physical harm, and which in fact resulted in death, would go scot-free unless he could be proved to have intended to assist or encourage the principal (offender) to inflict death or serious harm.
“Anybody who took part in a venture of that kind would be guilty of manslaughter, a very serious crime, at least unless the death resulted from something which he could not possibly have foreseen.
“But to be guilty of murder, rather than manslaughter, the secondary party (to the crime) had to have had the intent which I have described.”
Prior to the ruling, MPs had called for an urgent review of joint enterprise laws which have been used in a wide variety of cases, including gang murders where it was impossible to prove which member’s actions actually led to the victim’s death.
The House of Commons’ justice select committee said in a report in December 2014: “In light of the evidence we have heard in this inquiry ... our disquiet at the functioning of the law on joint enterprise has grown.
“Notwithstanding the positive development of the publication of the CPS’s guidance on joint enterprise charging decisions, there seems to be no willingness on the part of the government to recognise that there may be negative effects from the operation of the doctrine, for the reputation of the justice system and for wider society, as well as for the interests of some of those convicted under the doctrine and for the victims of crimes.”
In the committee report, chairman Sir Alan Beith said the authorities should keep better figures on the use of joint enterprise so that its full impact can be monitored.
“Given the degree of concern which exists about the operation of joint enterprise, we say it is not acceptable for the main authorities in the criminal justice system to give such limited attention and priority to the recording and collation of fundamental information about the use of the doctrine,” Sir Alan said.
“We also call for research to provide information covering the last five years, and for the CPS to monitor and analyse the way prosecutors are following the guidance in cases where the joint enterprise doctrine is used.”
Campaigners have claimed joint enterprise leads to miscarriages of justice and is used disproportionately against ethnic minorities.
However, the report said: “The low rate of success of appeals against joint enterprise convictions is seen by some, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, as giving comfort that miscarriages of justice in this sense are not taking place to a significant degree.”
The report went on to call on the Government to request the Law Commission undertake an urgent review of joint enterprise in murder cases.
A report published on January 27 this year, based on a survey of 250 prisoners convicted under joint enterprise provisions “found evidence that black and minority ethnic people are serving long prison sentences because of unfair and racist criminal justice practices”.
The report - Dangerous associations – tracked the complex process of criminalisation through which black and minority ethnic people are “unfairly identified by the police as members of dangerous gangs”.
“This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ is used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed,” the research by Williams and Becky Clarke, senior Lecturers in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University found.
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