As part of the MSc communication skills seminar series Gloria Morrison visited the Oxford Centre for Criminology on Tuesday 14 May to speak about her work with JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) where she is the campaign co-ordinator. She was joined by Lisa McInerney who is a campaigner for the organisation. Lisa is also mother to Tommy McInerney who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for murder under joint enterprise laws. JENGbA are a not-for-profit grassroots organisation comprised of families campaigning against the wrongful convictions of loved ones using the now somewhat discredited doctrine of 'joint enterprise’.

As stated by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), ‘joint enterprise’ is:

“an aspect or form of secondary liability, and not an independent liability. Joint enterprise can apply where two or more persons are involved in an offence or offences. A principal is one who carries out the substantive offence and performs the conduct element of the offence and the secondary party is one who assists or encourages the principal to commit the substantive offence. However a secondary party can be prosecuted and punished as if he were a principal offender. Secondary liability principles can be applied to most offences. A joint enterprise may or may not be pre-planned”

Gloria emphasised that it is the misuse of the application of the law of joint enterprise that has led to the overcriminalisation of thousands of young men and women in England and Wales since the 1980s. She explained that conviction often rests on a delicate balance of ‘could’ and ‘should’ or ‘might’ and ‘may’, and that the evidential bar is astonishingly low for such serious offences that carry such long mandatory sentences.

Gloria shared the story of her son’s best friend, Ken, who was convicted of murder under the doctrine of joint enterprise and sentenced to life, with a minimum tariff of 15 years. She described how her personal experiences motivated her to start ‘London Against Injustice’ where she met more and more people, often mothers and other women, who had friends, siblings or children who had been convicted under joint enterprise but had shared no intent or foresight of the crime they had been convicted of. 

One of the individuals she met was Janet Cunliffe, mother to Jordan and Gareth Cunliffe, two brothers who were tried alongside several others for offences relating to the murder of Gary Newlove. Although Gareth, aged 15 at the time, was acquitted, Jordan, aged 16, was convicted of murder under the doctrine of joint enterprise. Gloria and Lisa played a clip of Janet speaking about her experiences available here.

Motivated by their experiences and the experiences of injustice of many of the other women they had met, Gloria described how she, together with Janet and two others, cofounded JENGbA. JENGbA began a campaign appeal to overturn the convictions of Ken and others, launching properly in 2010 initially supported by funding from Michael Woodfood, former CEO of Olympus.

Gloria explained how interest in their campaign grew and attracted attention from various media organisations. In 2009, Panorama released a documentary titled ‘Lethal Enterprise’ and in 2011, the film ‘Common’, by Jimmy McGovern, was released-a drama about the experiences of an individual convicted under joint enterprise. This film was shown to the Justice Select Committee and led to further political support for the campaign.

In 2012, a second Justice Select Committee enquiry took place to discuss joint enterprise, this time hearing from academics Ben Crewe, Susie Hulley and Serena Wright regarding their recent study focussed on the experiences of prisoners serving very long sentences. This study found a large proportion of those serving such sentences had been convicted of joint enterprise and that members of the black community were significantly overrepresented. Gloria stressed the importance of this research primarily in documenting the high proportion of BAME people among those convicted under joint enterprise laws, something that had been clear to Gloria and other campaigners in the organisation for some time.

In 2015, the Supreme Court accepted a review into joint enterprise law based on appellants Jogee and Ruddock who were both convicted of murder under joint enterprise where judges sought to apply the principle of parasitic accessory liability first established in Chan Wing-Siu v The Queen [1985] AC 168. Gloria and other JENGbA campaigners crowdfunded to enable JENGbA to support three lawyers to intervene in the review.

In February 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that the law had taken a ‘wrong’ turn since Chan Wing-Sui specifically in the use of the doctrine of parasitic accessory liability. As well as foresight, prosecutors would now be required to prove intention for the deed to happen. Gloria described the importance of this landmark ruling for the campaign. However, she explained that only cases that could prove ‘substantial injustice’ could go back to the Court of Appeal, despite the acknowledgment from the Supreme Court of the misuse of this doctrine.

Following this ruling, JENGbA have launched and supported several appeals against the use of joint enterprise, the majority of which have been funded by legal aid. On 31 October 2016 the first group of appeals-R v Johnson-were handed down. Gloria described the court room on that day: the press box full of reporters and the public gallery a sea of red, full of campaigners and family members and friends of the appellants all wearing red in recognition of the campaign. Much to her dismay, every single one of the appeals were rejected by the court.

Since this date nearly every single appeal has been rejected bar those of John Crilley and Ameen Jogee. Gloria emphasised that even for those who have been released on license, the nature of license following sentences for life means their lives are forever controlled by their sentence and conviction. She described how appeals relating to joint enterprise are highly political in their nature and of the immense frustrations that this creates in achieving change.    

At this point, Lisa interjected, speaking of her experiences as a mother affected by the use of joint enterprise. She described the conflicting emotions she experienced at hearing the sentence of 18 years given to her son, Tommy, who was convicted of murder under joint enterprise in June 2013, feeling relief as they had been told to expect a minimum of 25 years. Notwithstanding this temporary relief that the sentence was not as harsh as it might have been, she experienced the inevitable torment of knowing her son was to be imprisoned when he was not responsible for the murder he had been convicted of. Now 27 years old, Tommy has served 7 years of his sentence so far and Lisa still cries when she speaks of his ordeal.

Gloria ended the presentation by reflecting on the current position of the campaign and the future strategies and plans of the organisation. JENGbA currently supports over 900 prisoners, predominantly lifers. They have cross party support for their campaign and continue to lobby to overturn the convictions of those wrongly sentenced under joint enterprise. A significant element of the campaign work is in raising awareness of the misuse of the application of this law. Gloria emphasised their focus on political change in order to have an impact on policy decisions, describing the issue of joint enterprise as one of ‘policy over law’. She explained that one of their current projects is the establishment of a charity to create an initiative for law students to review and work on cases and support those affected by the doctrine of joint enterprise. As a not-for-profit organisation, JENGbA relies exclusively on volunteers, many of them working class women with few privileges who educate themselves on the law and approach each case with compassion and tenacity, campaigning against the use of joint enterprise for those wrongly sentenced, very most often those from BAME and working-class backgrounds.

 

For more information on the work of JENGbA please visit: http://www.jointenterprise.co/

Harriet Moore, MSc student at the Centre for Criminology