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Supreme Court Judgment on Joint Enterprise ‘Meaningless’.

(Posted on 20/11/18)

On January 27th 2007, 50-year-old Andrew Ayres was beaten to death in a taxi queue outside the Kings Head pub in Bradford. Four people in their 20s were convicted of his murder under joint enterprise. Three of them had armed themselves with weapons from a nearby house, including a knuckle duster, CS spray and a medieval ball and chain; the fourth, Laura Mitchell (pictured), claimed she was looking for her shoes when Ayres was attacked.

Last week, in a test case of joint enterprise, Mitchell lost her appeal, the first to be referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) under new judicial guidance for joint enterprise cases, brought in after the Supreme Court ruling that courts had been misinterpreting the foresight rule for 30 years.

“It is for the jury to decide on the whole evidence,” the 2016 judgment said, “whether [a secondary party] had the necessary intent.” Since then, only two applications have resulted in sentences being reduced or convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal. Mitchell’s is the first to come through the CCRC after she lost a previous appeal in 2008.

Campaign group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) issued a statement: “Laura is a young mum, a trainee midwife. She had gone on a night out, there was a row about a taxi, she didn’t instigate any fight. She was pulled from the taxi and thrown to the floor. The evidence of the case proves that Laura did not inflict the blow that tragically killed the victim, and that she was not at the scene when that fatal blow was delivered. She was not part of a plan to murder and she had no foresight that the actions of another would lead to the death of the victim.”

“There’s a sufficiently strong case that a jury properly directed would not have convicted the appellant,” Mitchell’s QC Tim Moloney had told the court. “The substantial injustice she has suffered is compounded by the life sentence. There was no evidence that she was part of the plan to get weapons. She was encouraged to move away but she insisted on staying on to recover her shoes. It was clear from a number of prosecution witnesses that she had lost her shoes and wanted to find them.”

Appeal Judge Lady Justice Hallett said the application was refused because Mitchell was party to the initial fight, punching and kicking, and did not communicate any intention to withdraw from the violence when the others fetched ‘reinforements’. A jury could therefore have inferred that she was still party to the later, fatal blows.

“The Laura Mitchell case was seen as the most clear cut case of substantial injustice of joint enterprise,” Labour MP Lucy Powell tweeted. “That it’s not even got over the first hurdle shows that the ‘wrong turn’ judgment of the supreme court is now meaningless.”