May 20 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The law surrounding gang murder cases is now so complex that juries “may find it impossible to understand how to reach the right verdict”, MPs said.
A new law is needed “to ensure justice for both victims and defendants” and end the high number of appeals, the Commons Justice Select Committee said.
But prosecutors should urgently be given new guidance in so-called joint enterprise cases, particularly those involving gang-related killings, to help clarify the situation before a new law can be brought in, the MPs said.
The legal principle of joint enterprise means that anyone who agrees to commit a crime with another person becomes liable for everything that person does during the offence.
In December, five teenagers were given long sentences of detention for killing a 15-year-old boy who was stabbed to death as he arrived at school.
Zac Olumegbon lay dying on his back in the garden of a house just metres from Park Campus School in West Norwood, south London, in July 2010.
His killers Helder Demorais, 18, Ricardo Giddings, 17, Jamal Moore, 17, and Kyle Kinghorn, 18, were found guilty of murder and ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
Giddings was given a minimum term of 18 years, Kinghorn 16 years, Demorais 16 years and Moore 14 years.
Shaquille Haughton, 16, was found guilty of manslaughter and was detained for eight years with an additional four years for wounding Zac’s friend, making a total of 12 years.
Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Inspector John McFarlane said: “The law on joint enterprise is clear and unforgiving - if you are with the knife man in a murder case you too could be found guilty and sent to prison.”
Joint enterprise should be enshrined in statute, but the problems are “sufficiently acute” that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, should “issue urgent guidance on the use of the doctrine when charging”.
The guidance should set out “the proper threshold at which association potentially becomes evidence of involvement in crime”, the report said.
It said: “Such guidance should deal specifically with murder, although we acknowledge such guidance will not assuage the concerns of some of our witnesses.”
The current lack of clarity was “unacceptable”, it added.
The MPs said both prosecutors and police should also bear in mind that joint enterprise was not intended to “foster gang mentality or draw people into the criminal justice system inappropriately”.
Over-charging will not help deter young people and may put off potential witnesses, they said.
It comes after the most senior judge in England and Wales expressed concerns over joint enterprise prosecutions last month.