‘A Moment of Genuine Legal History’

The title of this post is taken from the BBC’s analysis of this case as I couldn’t have put it better – the ‘joint enterprise’ ruling in Feb 2016 was ‘a moment of genuine legal history’ and about the best example a student of Judiciary in Unit 2 can have.

In brief, the ‘joint enterprise’ law has been used to convict people for murder. “The joint enterprise law has been used to convict people in gang-related cases if defendants “could” have foreseen violent acts by their associates” (BBC). This has been used to convict ‘murderers’ such as those who killed Stephen Lawrence, a young man stabbed to death in 1993.

“For years, juries were told that to convict the other gang members, they simply had to be sure that they foresaw the possibility that the killing might occur.” (BBC)

The role of the Judiciary is to interpret the law as passed by government. For the last 30 years, this was the interpretation of ‘joint enterprise’ that has been accepted by the Courts in the UK. However, in this case (R v Jogee/Ruddock v The Queen), Lord Neuberger, in a unanimous decision, stated this interpretation was incorrect. They said that simply having foresight of a murder was not ‘a sufficient test’. Understanding the role of the judiciary in interpretation and in Judicial Review is key for Unit 2.

“The courts took a wrong turn in 1984,” said Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, when he handed down the decision. “This court is always very cautious before departing from a previous decision,” he added. “It is the responsibility of this court to put the law right.” (Financial Times – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cf6f7dfa-d630-11e5-8887-98e7feb46f27.html)

This is a fabulous example of Judicial Review for students, as well as the initial interpretation being a great example of the judiciary doing it’s job of interpreting the laws that the government passes. It shows the importance of the still reasonably newly formed Supreme Court (announced in 2005 Constitutional Reform Act, working from 1 Oct 2009) – the response to this ruling seems to have been largely positive and accepted. It will become the framework going forward. Equally, there is now a chance those convicted under ‘Joint Enterprise’ could challenge their convictions (although there is a suggestion that this is unlikely to result in people being freed as they are likely to be convicted under manslaughter charges instead).

If you know one example for the Unit 2 Judiciary topic, I’d make sure I knew this one!