Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

Domestic violence victims 'unfairly convicted of murder'

Domestic violence victims are being unfairly convicted of murder and manslaughter under joint enterprise laws, warns report

  • There are 109 women and girls in jail under joint enterprise crimes, study found
  • Half abused at time of offence, and half were not present when it happened 
  • Women’s justice campaigner said study proved system needed and ‘overhaul’  

Domestic abuse victims are being unfairly convicted of murder and manslaughter under joint enterprise laws, new research warned today. 

There are at least 109 women and girls currently serving long prison sentences under joint enterprise crimes, according to Manchester Metropolitan University. 

But researchers found half of the women were experiencing domestic violence at the time of the offence, and in 87% of cases the perpetrator was a co-defendant. 

 Researchers found half of women serving prison sentences for joint enterprise offences had been victims of domestic abuse 

The report – seen by the Daily Telegraph – also found half were not present at the time of the offence, but had been convicted using the law of secondary liability. 

The controversial law allows someone to be jointly convicted of a crime committed by another if they foresaw that the other person was likely to commit it. 

Three-quarters of the 109 women behind bars had been convicted of murder or manslaughter. 

None of them wielded the deadly weapon, and 90% did not use any violence at all – yet they were convicted and punished in the same way as the male defendants. 

One female-co-defendant, Jenna, had experienced years of sexual abuse, but the prosecution claimed she ‘manipulated men for sex’. 

She said:  ‘My abuse was used by the prosecution to paint a bad picture of me.

‘I think also when used by the defence it didn’t help. I just don’t think they believed me.’

Campaigner Harriet Wistrich – responding to the report – called for a ‘complete overhaul’ of the criminal justice system

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said: ‘It is further evidence to signal the need for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system, and the inability of the state to take into account the experience of domestic violence and its impact on offenders.’

Dr Kate Paradine, CEO of Women in Prison said: ‘The staggering findings of the report show that for women criminalised and punished for the most serious offences under joint enterprise, almost half were not present at the scene or ever engaged in any physical violence. 

‘This points to courts systematically ignoring women’s experiences of surviving gender-based violence and abuse, and even using those against them.

‘We know that 7 in 10 women in prison are survivors of domestic abuse and that earlier intervention to provide safety, care and support would have prevented their coming into contact with the criminal justice system. 

‘As a society, we must consider the sweeping devastating impact domestic abuse has on survivors and ensure our justice system prevents further harm and doesn’t push marginalised women further away from the support they desperately need.’

The CPS said: ‘It is right that those who assist or encourage someone to commit a violent crime are also prosecuted and punished. 

‘However, prosecutors assess the evidence against each individual and have to prove to a jury beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty. 

‘Case law has clarified what the prosecution must prove regarding intention and our legal guidance on this is publicly available. Each convicted defendant also has a right of appeal’. 

What is the law on joint-enterprise murders and why is it so controversial? 

The killers of Stephen Lawrence were convicted using joint enterprise laws

Joint enterprise law was used to convict David Norris and Gary Dobson of killing black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

In another well-known case three teenagers, Adam Swellings, Stephen Sorton and Jordan Cunliffe were jailed for life in January 2008 for the murder of Garry Newlove. Mr Newlove was attacked in front of his daughters in August 2007 after he confronted a group outside his house in Warrington, Cheshire.

The law allows for several people to be convicted of the same offence, even if they played different roles.

It can be used to prosecute all crimes but has recently been mainly used in murder cases.

The law means that a gang involved in a fatal attack, who could be standing by encouraging others, can be convicted of murder even if they do not land the fatal blow or kick.

Prosecutors say the law is only used for people who participate in a crime while others have raised concerns about the danger of injustice.

In 2016, the Supreme Court – Britain’s highest court – ruled the law had been wrongly interpreted since 1984 over co-defendants in murder cases who did not strike the killer blow.

Justices had said the interpretation of part of the law relating to joint enterprise – which can result in people being convicted of assault or murder even if they did not strike the blow – had taken a ‘new turn’ in the mid-1980s.

Senior judges decided in 1984 that a ‘secondary party’ would be guilty of murder if he or she ‘foresaw’ the possibility that the ‘principal’ might act with intent to cause death or serious harm

The Supreme Court said that development was wrong. Justices said it was not right that someone should be guilty merely because they foresaw that a co-accused might commit a crime.

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