Less is more: the criminal justice system and the joint enterprise law

I know of someone who is serving time for murder, convicted on the following evidence.

A young black man, he was driving a car in Nottingham with other passengers and was stopped by the police. He picked up and handed the police a mobile phone which was seized by the police and recorded as his property. The previous month a man had been killed in a Sheffield street in a drive-by shooting. Police investigating this crime seized mobile phones from some suspects. One of these phones had been used, near the time of the shooting and within 6 kilometres of it, to call the phone the phone later found in the car.

That’s it. That’s enough to get the young black man a life sentence. He says the mobile wasn’t his. He says he wasn’t in Sheffield at the time, but in Nottingham. He did not know the victim of the shooting and he knew of no plan to kill or harm him or any reason why anyone should want to harm him.

I’ve been invited to speak at a meeting at the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 March about the Joint Enterprise law which can be used to send someone down on a life sentence on such grossly inadequate evidence [see
http://www.innocent.org.uk/news/index.html#jointe]. This law is developed from common law, which means that it has never been considered in parliament. It is the creature of prosecutors and judges, encouraged by the police and ministers who think that being tough on crime might possibly help them keep their jobs. We hope that by lobbying and drawing the attention of MPs to the iniquities of this law, they will make a new statute to replace the common law and so prevent the conviction of more innocent individuals.

We are of course living in cloud cuckoo land. Any new law would be the result of what lawyers and judges and, above all, the police want. It would reflect the incessant demands of the media and the politicians’ love of  a mask of toughness. So our demands for law reform would result in something worse than what we’ve got already.

But at least we’ll have had a rant about injustice and the destruction of innocent young people’s lives.


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