Jury misdirection before murder conviction causes the CCRC to refer first joint enterprise case in Northern Ireland
For the first time in Northern Ireland, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has today referred a joint enterprise case as a possible miscarriage of justice.
Joint enterprise relates to secondary offenders to a crime being prosecuted as if they were the main offender. In 2016, the Supreme Court said that the law had been misinterpreted and that a person should only be found guilty of a joint enterprise offence if they intended to assist or encourage the person who committed it.
Under the joint enterprise law, James Alexander Smith and his co-accused Peter Greer were convicted at Downpatrick Crown Court in March 2013 of the murder of Duncan Morrison, the attempted murder of Stephen Ritchie and two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life in May 2011. Mr Smith was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 21 years.
Mr Smith’s case has today been referred to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal (NICA) following the CCRC’s review of directions given to the jury during the trial.
CCRC Chairman Helen Pitcher OBE said:
“The CCRC has received dozens of applications to review historic joint enterprise convictions after the law was ruled in 2016 to have ‘taken a wrong turn’.
“Joint enterprise appeals have a high hurdle to clear – and in Mr Smith’s case, there had to be a strong case that the directions to the jury made a difference to the outcome of the trial.
“We have referred this case to the NICA because we believe there is a real possibility that they will overturn Mr Smith’s convictions.”
In 2016, in the case of R v Jogee  UKSC 8 (Jogee), the United Kingdom Supreme Court made significant changes to the law in relation to secondary parties in “joint enterprise” cases.
However, the courts have confirmed that they will only quash convictions where juries were directed in line with the “old” (i.e. pre-Jogee) law where not doing so would result in a “substantial injustice”.
As Mr Smith’s trial was in 2013, the directions to the jury included references to the law as it stood pre-Jogee. Having carefully analysed the case, the CCRC has decided that there is a real possibility that had the jury been directed in line with the law as it is now understood, this would have made a difference to the outcome of the trial.
The CCRC has therefore concluded that there is a real possibility that NICA will decide that it would be a substantial injustice for Mr Smith’s convictions to stand.
This press release was issued by the Communications Team, Criminal Cases Review Commission. They can be contacted by phone on: 0121 232 0900 or by email: email@example.com.
Notes to Editors
- The CCRC is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
- There are currently 11 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
- The CCRC usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.
- The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal. Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.
- If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
- More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk. The CCRC can be found on Twitter @ccrcupdate and Instagram the_ccrc