« View all Articles

News Round-Up Week Ending 4th April 2014

Charlotte Rowles

By Charlotte Rowles on 02/04/14

News Round-Up Week Ending 4th April 2014

Hundreds found guilty under Joint Enterprise laws may be unfairly jailed for murder.

Oliver Wright writing in the i newspaper considers the latest research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Shining a spotlight on the controversial 300 year -old legal doctrine that allows whole groups can be prosecuted for one’s person actions, regardless of which member of the group committed it.  The Bureau looked at cases coming to court over the last 8 years and found hundreds of people are being convicted of murder or manslaughter even though they were not directly responsible for a crime. 

While one in every five murder cases are classified as joint enterprise are now coming before the courts, at the same time the rate at which these cases are appealed has doubled to 22 per cent in 2013. 

Senior legal figures have been making the case for the reform. Lord Philips, the former Lord Chief Justice told the Bureau that joint enterprise was “capable of producing injustice, undoubtedly”.  

With an impressive back catalogue of crime dramas, Jimmy McGovern’s new film for the BBC called ‘Common’, features a joint enterprise case: a young man gives friends an impromptu lift to a pizza parlour and finds himself charged with murder.

The film is due to be screen on BBC One this spring. 

Crime writer attends fund raiser for US Innocence projects

Pamela Gould writing on the US news website Fredericksburg.com 

Author John Grisham was joined by Edgar Coker, a 22 year –old who was falsely imprisoned for rape. Coker, whose search for justice was taken up by The Innocence Project in the US, came together for a fundraising event in March at the University Of Virginia School Of Law.

Grisham, who draws on his former job as a trial lawyer, for many of his legal thrillers, serves on the board of the original Innocence Project in New York.   In a speech to the audience, the novelist said he’s heard estimates that between 2 percent and 10 percent of people in prison are innocent, but they have little recourse to get their situations corrected. 

“There’s no money for innocence work,” Grisham said. “Our system is not designed to get innocent people out of prison.”

My Law Society.weekly (March) 

A website for lawyers in New Zealand highlights the petition to call for a Criminal Case Review Commission. 

A campaigning group called NZ CCRC NOW launched the appeal calling on the government to set up a fully independent body to consider wrongful convictions.

They are joined in their bid for change from New Zealand leading professionals, The Forensics Group who are calling for the development of investigatory body modelled on our own Criminal Cases Review Commission. 

Critics of the existing routes to justice; the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and appeal to the Privy Council say both legal procedures are costly and lengthy with low rates of pardons. 

NZ CCR NOW spokesperson Lynne Dempsey says New Zealand research indicates that up to 20 innocent people are likely to be in New Zeeland prisons at any given time and raises concerns about racial discrimination within the criminal justice system. 

"Are we expected to believe that ethnic minorities suffer only 10% as many injustices as Europeans? Such an assumption is ludicrous and unfair. Alarm bells should be ringing." 

Veteran campaigner highlights fears for justice with time limits on cold cases. 

In March’s Birmingham Mail, veteran journalist Don Hale reflected on the case of Stephen Downing, who was cleared of the murder of Wendy Sewell after spending 27 years in prison. While Hale’s extraordinary battle for the truth, led to the release of Downing, the real killer has not been found. 

Hale, former editor of the Matlock Mercury fought a 6 year-long campaign to find justice in the case. 

Though the police eventually accepted that they had ‘significantly and substantially breached the Judges’ Rules,’ and also accepted a compelling forensic challenge to their initial conclusions, the story does not end there. 

Recent inquiries by including former detective Chris Clark have uncovered the original pathology report on Mrs Sewell’s murder. Clark raises the spectre of the Yorkshire Ripper involvement, with the injuries having striking similarities to Sutcliffe’s crimes. 

Calls for an independent inquiry of the Sewell’s case could come across a problem accessing legal and case papers. 

The detective notes there is a 30-year restriction order imposed upon any new Freedom of Information inquiries, claiming public interest immunity.
Which leaves the question unanswered of as to who is really responsible for Wendy Sewell’s murder?