Campaigners crowdfund fees for crucial Supreme Court intervention

(Originally published in the Big Issue in the North)

A group of women campaigning against the law of joint enterprise have successfully crowdfunded their legal fees for a critical intervention in a forthcoming case at the Supreme Court. 

Janet Cunliffe of JENGBA visiting her son Jordan prison
Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGBA) used the pioneering website, Crowd Justice, to raise over £10,000 for an intervention in the case of Ameen Hassan Jogee, whose appeal of his 2012 murder conviction will be heard by the Supreme Court in October.

JENGBA’s lawyers will seek to use the intervention to argue that the controversial joint enterprise doctrine has led to a number of miscarriages of justice and the excessive criminalisation of secondary participants in murder cases. 

Janet Cunliffe, a co-founder of JENGBA whose son Jordan is also appealing his conviction for the 2005 murder of Gary Newlove, said she hopes the intervention will lead to the law being amended:

“This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to go to the Supreme Court with a valid argument. I think the Supreme Court will come out in our favour and once the judges clarify how the law should be amended then the government can act on that.”

Joint enterprise is a doctrine of common law under which a person who is not directly implicated in a murder can nevertheless be convicted as part of a group if it is proven they could have foreseen the killing taking place. The law is designed to facilitate the prosecution of entire groups for murder, regardless of who dealt the fatal blow.

However, critics argue it amounts to guilt by association and last year a House of Commons Justice Select Committee inquiry called for an “urgent review” into the doctrine, warning that it could lead to miscarriages of justice.

Despite the report’s warnings the use of joint enterprise in murder prosecutions remains widespread. In July JENGBA penned a letter to Lord Chancellor Michael Gove urging him to “place an immediate moratorium on the Crown’s use of joint enterprise, until reform or preferably abolition occurs”.

The group’s successful crowdfunding campaign is one of the first to be successfully funded since Crowd Justice was founded earlier this year. Cunliffe hopes the venture will help raise money for other individuals and campaigns who are struggling to afford the costs of accessing justice due to legal aid cuts.

“I think it’s very sad that people have to go to that extreme in order to get adequate legal representation,” said Cunliffe, “But I also think it’s positive that people can get the funding they need off their own back by using Crowd Justice.”

The website allows individuals and groups - who have the backing of a lawyer but cannot afford legal fees - to pitch their cases to an online community of backers. It was founded earlier this year as a social venture by former UN lawyer, Julia Salasky, who hopes the scheme will help in the quest to “democratise justice”:

“If you’re not a very wealthy individual it’s actually extremely expensive to access the courts. There have been huge cuts in legal aid and in some areas court fees have gone up over 600% over the last 12 months.

“We set up Crowd Justice to look at ways that people can come together to overcome those financial barriers when there’s a court case that affects their community or an issue that’s important for them.”

Earlier this year a report by Unite the Union and Goldsmiths University of London estimated that the government’s £350million cuts to the legal aid budget since 2013 have had “extremely negative impacts” on 623,000 people – the vast majority from disadvantaged sections of the population.

Salasky hopes Crowd Justice can be useful to some of these people and is especially excited about JENGBA’s successful campaign which she predicts could have a significant social impact:  

“Often in legal cases you’re holding the government or others to account which is a very powerful democratic privilege.

“In this case what is so exciting is that by going to the Supreme Court they really have the opportunity to change the law. To be able to crowdfund that and have all sorts of people feel they were part of that historic moment is pretty powerful.”