LEGAL EAGLE: Explaining joint enterprise change

There has been a lot of coverage about a change in the law of 'joint enterprise'. On February 18 the Supreme Court issued an important judgement in two appeals against convictions for murder.

Tuesday, 1st March 2016, 9:00 am

A lot of the reporting says this case was about “joint enterprise” but the Supreme Court said that was not always correct. Joint enterprise simply refers to a case where two or more people are involved in a crime together. This appeal related to the responsibility of different parties to a criminal offence/s arising out of the same incident.

The key issue was whether the appellant was properly convicted of murder when he was not the person who committed the act that led to the death.

The appellants argued not so much that the law had been incorrectly applied but that the law was itself incorrect. They said two cases from 1985 and 1999 which were applied in their cases had been decided incorrectly and taken a “wrong turn” in this area of law.

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In any criminal offence there can be a principal party (the person who creates the forged document) and a secondary party (the person who hands over the pen).

The 1985 and 1999 cases said a secondary party was equally guilty of a criminal offence as the principal if he foresaw the possibility that the principal may commit that offence.

Sometimes that meant there was a lower threshold for guilt for the secondary than for the principal.

The Supreme Court has now said that was incorrect and for the secondary party to be guilty of the same offence as the Principal, the secondary party must intend to encourage or assist the Principal in committing that offence. A range of cases may be affected by this and people will have varying views about whether the court is right.

It will be interesting to see the impact on future cases and appeals in previous cases. Some convictions may be considered unsafe but by no means every one.

A secondary party will not escape responsibility where the court decide he intended the particular criminal offence to be committed. There may still be compelling evidence to find that the secondary party is guilty of the same offence as the Principal.

Remember the principles apply to all criminal offences and not just murder. If you think a wrong decision has been made in your case the sooner you act the better.

 If you need advice please contact our criminal defence team on 01915681111. To read a detailed article about the ruling see our blog –