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Joint enterprise law ruling will result in more suffering

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 19/02/2016

The court has ruled, in effect, that the law which enabled people to be convicted of murder, even if they did not commit the act, has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years
The court has ruled, in effect, that the law which enabled people to be convicted of murder, even if they did not commit the act, has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years

The latest decision by the Supreme Court in London means that some of our most notorious killers may appeal to have their sentences overturned.

The court has ruled, in effect, that the law which enabled people to be convicted of murder, even if they did not commit the act, has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years.

The so-called joint enterprise law has been used to convict people who were classed as secondary parties who assisted or encouraged the main perpetrator in a killing, and could have "foreseen" the violent act by their associates. Now the Supreme Court judges have ruled that it was wrong to treat foresight as a sufficient test of guilt.

Appeals are costly, and this could lead to the taxpayer having to foot massive bills now that the legal aid dispute has been settled.

The new developments will also challenge the robust appellant system that is now in place. For example, Hazel Stewart, who was convicted in 2011 of murdering her husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell in a joint enterprise with her lover Colin Howell, has already had three appeals.

Does this mean that she is entitled to yet another appeal, following the Supreme Court judgment? The vast majority of people will find this difficult to comprehend.

However, people will understand fully the human suffering of the families of those who lost loved ones, when a case involving their murderers is re-opened.

They include the families of Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, who already have experienced considerable distress.

The new developments might also mean that Nigel Brown, convicted of killing the schoolboy Thomas Devlin in 2010, will be allowed to challenge his conviction.

Thomas Devlin's family and friends have also suffered greatly through his death and the long legal struggle which led to Brown's conviction.

A leading Belfast solicitor has estimated that a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland could seek to overturn their convictions, and the new development could also radically affect those currently before the courts.

While the public will want to see justice fairly administered, there will also be widespread and deep sympathy for the victims of crime and their families who have had to suffer so much.

Belfast Telegraph

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