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Vol. 80/No. 13      April 4, 2016


UK fight wins limits on ‘guilt by association’ frame-ups

MANCHESTER, England — In a victory for working people, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 18 that the controversial “joint enterprise” law had been “wrongly interpreted” for the last 30 years. In the name of fighting “gang violence,” the 300-year-old legal doctrine has been increasingly used over the last decade to prosecute individuals for homicide just for being present or being associated with the killer.

Since 2010 the group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association has held meetings, protests outside Parliament and political conventions and given countless interviews. JENGbA is in contact with families of more than 600 people convicted under this law.

“My son Jordan’s case will be even stronger with this ruling, when the Criminal Cases Review Commission decides whether he is entitled to an appeal,” said Janet Cunliffe, a founder of JENGbA, at a Militant Labour Forum here March 5. Jordan Cunliffe was convicted of murder at the age of 15 and sentenced to life, with a minimum of 12 years in prison followed by lifelong parole. He was with a group of friends in 2007 when a street altercation led to one person being killed.

“I could not understand how my son, who was legally blind, could have had ‘foresight’ that someone else would kill the victim, or even that such ‘foresight’ would be enough to condemn anyone for murder,” she said.

Under the Supreme Court decision, to convict a person under joint enterprise the prosecution now must prove they had “intention to assist or encourage the crime.”

Despite crime going down, there are more people in prison convicted of murder, noted Janet Cunliffe. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 1,800 and 4,590 people were prosecuted for murder using the joint enterprise law between 2005 and 2013.

“I want to pay tribute to what Janet and JENGbA have achieved,” said Peter Clifford, Communist League candidate for Manchester City Council, who joined her on the platform. “It took a lot of courage to stand up against the media that painted the youths as a ‘gang of murderers.’”

Clifford pointed to the newly published book The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the US Working Class: “It’s the Poor Who Face the Savagery of the US ‘Justice’ System.” As the title says, the courts and prisons “are not about justice or fighting crime, they’re about pushing working people back,” he said. Clifford noted how Janet Cunliffe and other JENGbA campaigners have offered solidarity to other fights against police killings and unfair convictions, including the case of the Cuban Five, revolutionaries who spent up to 16 years in U.S. prisons on frame-up charges.

“My son has been protected inside by other prisoners because they thought the verdict was so unfair,” Cunliffe said. “And Jordan has received so many good letters from all over the world, from Texas to Australia.”

“I have learnt about a different world through this campaign,” she continued. “I used to believe the system was just. But I see now how people can end up in prison. And they are workers!” Like in the United States, “prisoners work here too, but they earn only about £9 ($13) a week. It is really a system of slave labor! I know they make DFS sofas and parts for ‘Boris’ Bikes,’” she said, referring to rental bikes named after London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Clifford pointed to how the case of Stephen Lawrence, a Black youth who was killed by a racist gang in 1993, has been used to justify the use of joint enterprise and undermine other legal protections. Two people accused of being gang members were initially acquitted, but tried a second time and convicted 19 years later. That was an attack on rights of all working people,” he said.

“Now we need to campaign so people who have been wrongfully convicted get the hearings so the convictions can be overturned,” said Janet Cunliffe. “It is almost impossible to get any compensation if you have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and the process takes time. I expect Jordan will serve his 12 years. But I want him and others to come out with their names cleared.”
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