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Revise joint enterprise laws

By Sasha Harrinanan Monday, April 20 2015

click on pic to zoom in
President of the Law Association Reginal Armour SC, makes a presentation to Prof WilliamWilson, professor of Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of ...
President of the Law Association Reginal Armour SC, makes a presentation to Prof WilliamWilson, professor of Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of ...

The rules governing Joint Enterprise Liability (JEL) in murder should be revised, says Professor of Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of London, William Wilson, because too many persons are wrongly charged under the current rules.

Wilson made his case at a recent lecture at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, organised by the University of London and the British Caribbean Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Hugh Wooding Law School and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago.

Speaking with Newsday after his lecture, Wilson said amending JEL would not only make the criminal justice system “more just”, it would also save a lot of money and simply things in the current trial system. “At the moment, the way things work, too many people are charged under the Joint Enterprise Liability rules wrongly. It involves appeals and very, very difficult case management, and I think that is something which the criminal justice system could do without,” Wilson said.

In his lecture, he noted that under English law, “any person who participates in a criminal venture which results in a murder by one of the parties thereto is complicit in that murder simply upon proof that they contemplated the possibility that one of their number might intentionally kill or cause someone serious harm.”

Wilson gave an example of how the JEL law applies to real life.

If a bunch of football supporters decide to have a fight with a gang of rival supporters and one of them loses his cool, takes out a knife and intentionally stabs someone to death, all the others may be liable for murder along with the killer upon proof that they knew one of their number was carrying a knife and might use it.

Wilson noted that particularly in the case of murder, there is a significant injustice arising out of JEL because a conviction for being party to a joint enterprise means that person A suffers all the consequences of a murder conviction, including the offence label and the mandatory sentence - life imprisonment in the UK, death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago - without having laid a finger on anyone and without intending anyone any harm.

Wilson also pointed out that although the killer’s conviction for murder requires proof that he/she intended death or grievous bodily harm, the accessories to murder “have the far less culpable fault of foresight of the possibility that one of their number might commit murder.”

He argued that these and other reasons point to the need for reform and in his opinion, “the most suitable mechanism is via the courts” because legislative reform in the UK would depend on a Bill being slotted into “an overcrowded and heavily political legislative timetable.”

“However the signs are that the Supreme Court is not amenable,” Wilson explained, “due to the number of appeals that will be unleashed. It is for this reason that I am banking on the Privy Council.”

He said the impetus to get the court to reform JEL could come from TT, since “any realistic likelihood” of getting the law changed would require somebody successfully appealing a case all the way to the Privy Council.

“There are two reasons why I think that’s a good idea,” Wilson told Newsday. “First of all, I don’t like the idea that people should suffer the death penalty unless, at the very least, they intended to kill the victim. And also because if the Privy Council do, do as I think they ought to, they might do, that might actually change the law in England as well, which is obviously my primary ambition.”

Under the proposal, Wilson said it may often be possible for the Crown to establish there was a killing and on the part of some of the participants, that they intended at least grievous bodily harm.

“That would, provided the jury were sure there was a murder, render all those who held such intent or belief liable as murderers. Where that is not possible, the proposed scheme would result in manslaughter convictions.”

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