April 19 2024
Close this search box.

‘Hope can be a cruel concept’ – Joint Enterprise and ‘Substantial Injustice’

‘Hope can be a cruel concept’ – Joint Enterprise and ‘Substantial Injustice’

Nicola Campbell discusses her research into the impact of Joint Enterprise on the families of those convicted.

Over the past six months, I have been interviewing the families of those convicted of Joint Enterprise – mainly mothers and wives. These interviews provide data for understanding ‘substantial injustice’, and the lived experience of those who face it.

Joint Enterprise is common law doctrine where secondary offenders, although they do not commit a crime themselves, intend to encourage or assist others who do. Then, they can be prosecuted as if they were the main offenders themselves. Whilst there is much debate over the law, my research focusses on the impact these sentences have on the families of those convicted.

My research has found that the majority of individuals had great faith in the criminal justice system during their first interactions with it. One participant commented: ‘This is England, no stone will be left unturned.’ Another mother talked about her expectation of the courts: ‘I wasn’t worried because he didn’t do anything, and he certainly didn’t murder anyone. I thought we would get in there tell our side of the story and we would all go home.’

BAME mothers, however, were less hopeful than their white counterparts: ‘When has the system ever helped me? I knew not to have faith, but that didn’t stop me from wanting it. I wanted to believe so badly it would be ok.’

Despite the setbacks emerging from the archaic criminal appeal system, these women remain steadfast that the law will change, and their boys will come home. One mother referred to it as protecting her lion cub that has been kidnapped by another predator; ‘What else can I do? I have to do everything I can, I will do everything I can.’

In 2016, the Supreme Court decision of Jogee stoked this hope. In Jogee, the Court found that the law had taken a ‘wrong turn’ for over thirty years; their judgment was to rectify that misdirection.

I spoke to one young man that was imprisoned at 15 years old for murder under Joint Enterprise. He served 12 years and was recently released on licence: ‘I lived in hope that I would get home. I really thought I was going to get home. I thought that for the first eight years.’ He talked about standing in the wings of the prison when the news came through about the Jogee judgement: ‘I had never seen anything like it, we were all jumping and screaming. Some of us started to cry because we finally won. We were getting home.’

Unfortunately, as with the justice system more generally, the Supreme Court decision fell short of its promise. It soon become apparent that, even after Jogee, overturning a joint enterprise conviction based on the old law would be impossible, unless the applicant could prove they had suffered a ‘substantial injustice’.

‘Straight away I was in contact with my lawyer; when are we appealing, what is the next step? But then the reality of the Jogee judgement came through, it wasn’t going to help any of us.’ I asked them how this felt, to keep having their hopes raised and dashed and he responded, ‘Look, I got through 8 years. After Jogee I realised I would be doing my whole sentence, that was another 4 years. I spent the last 4 years punching walls. Hope got me through the first 8, and I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t have that hope.’

This hope can be a cruel concept. It gives individuals something to hold on to, but it can also break them. My research also examines the harm and pain felt as a result of being convicted for a crime under Joint Enterprise. I asked one mother whose son was serving a minimum tariff of almost 20 years whether they had suffered a substantial injustice: ‘I don’t know what a substantial injustice is. I don’t think the courts know what it is either. But I do know I haven’t slept properly since he was convicted over ten yours ago, and I don’t think I will ever sleep properly again.’

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to those I have spoken to thus far. If anyone else would like to share their experience with Joint Enterprise, please contact me at nicola.campbell-4@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk.