A Labour government would look again at the controversial law of Joint Enterprise. In a letter to a prisoner serving life for murder in HMP Durham, Ed Miliband has signalled his party’s intention to take another look at the complex doctrine which enables defendants to be found guilty of a killing even if they did not deliver the fatal blow.
In a letter to a constituent Ambrose Dear, the leader of the opposition acknowledged the campaign to reform the law. ‘I know that JENGbA have helped raise awareness of this issue over the years and I can assure you that I will follow this closely,’ he wrote. ‘ Back in 2o14, brothers Ambrose and Michael Dear were each convicted by a jury of murdering 57-year-old Sidney Cox as well as conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm to another man Benjamin Reynolds. They were each sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 18 years in custody minus time on remand. Ambrose Dear claims to not have been at the scene of the crime.
In his response to Dear, Miliband, who is MP for Doncaster North, noted that JENGbA and many joint enterprise families were calling for an ‘urgent review’ of the doctrine and that, despite similar calls from the House of Commons’ Justice Committee in 2012 and in a follow-up report in December 2014, the Government has declined such a review.
‘I believe it is vital that all prosecutions, particularly in cases which carry a high mandatory sentence like murder, are carried out in a fair and balanced manner. I also believe it is important that it is the independent Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service that consider whether a prosecution should be pursued under joint enterprise and that a jury is then able to consider all relevant information prior to this to deciding whether to convict.’
Some 10,000 people have now signed JENGbA’s petition against joint enterprise which was handed in to Number 10 by campaigners include JENGbA patron Jimmy McGovern. The Liberal Democrat manifesto has a pledge to introduce a Freedoms Act which would include reform of joint enterprise.
In a previous interview with www.thejusticegap.com, McGovern said:
‘Joint enterprise needs to be reformed but it’s the case of murder, murder needs reforming – how we treat murder – if you don’t reform that, there will always be injustice. You assist in the tiniest way and you do life, the man who pulled the trigger also does life.’
In response to the petition the Ministry of Justice said:
‘Joint enterprise law has enabled some of the most serious offenders to be brought to justice. It ensures that if a crime is committed by two or more people, all those involved can potentially be charged and convicted of that offence.’
The MoJ went on to explain that although they had ‘considered the Justice Committee’s recommendations carefully’, it would ‘not be appropriate’ to launch a review of the law before the end of the Parliament.
Gloria Morrison, campaign co-ordinator at JENGbA, said that ‘the chinks in the megalith’ that is joint enterprise were ‘starting to show’.
Bracken is police and crime reporter for Winchester News Online and student at the University of Winchester