November 28 2021

Caught in the joint enterprise dragnet

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Caught in the joint enterprise dragnet


Gloria Morrison, JENGbA

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INTERVIEW: ‘We’re not going to go away,’ says Gloria Morrison, a leading light in the campaigning group JENGbA – Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association. At the end of last year, the House of Commons’ justice committee called for an ‘urgent review’ of the controversial law of ‘joint enterprise’ that allows juries to find defendants guilty of a killing even if they did not deliver the fatal blow. The JENGbA families are still waiting.

Earlier in the year and before the election, the then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling said that a review of the law in this most contentious of area was a matter for the next government. ‘This isn’t a political issue. It’s not a left or right issue. It’s a justice issue,’ Morrison adds.

Today, the group will publish an open letter to the new Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove. ‘We urge you to place an immediate moratorium on the Crown’s use of the joint enterprise principle, until reform or preferably abolition occurs,’ it will read.

Last week Gloria Morrison and two other volunteers – mothers of black sons serving 24 and 28 years – were stuffing 543 envelopes with their monthly newsletter for prisoners in JENGbA’s headquarters, a rented room in the admin offices of a large council estate just off Ladbroke Grove, West London. The group is in touch with over 600 prisoners and ex-prisoners who have been convicted under joint enterprise.

The main news in issue 34 is the group’s intention to intervene in a critical test case to be heard by the Supreme Court late October (R v Jogee). Today JENGbA is launching an appeal – through CrowdJustice – to cover the costs of that intervention. This will be the first time that the top court has looked at this most contentious area of the law.

As Gloria Morrison explains: ‘The Supreme Court is looking at the question: “Does joint enterprise over-charge secondary parties?” Well, that’s us. That’s the story of our families. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen sentencing in our courts go through the roof.’

JENGBA 3The use of joint enterprise means that a peripheral figure in a group that commits murder could receive the same mandatory life sentence as the main perpetrator. The House of Commons’ justice select committee has called on the Law Commission to look at the possibility of charging secondary participants with manslaughter or a lesser offence.

‘Judges hate the mandatory aspect of joint enterprise,’ Morrison says. ‘They see the unfairness. They hate having their discretion limited. I have been told that we are pushing at an open door.’

Delivering the justice committee report at the end of last year, the then committee Sir Alan Beith said that there was ‘a real danger’ that the doctrine was being used to deliver a ‘social message’ about the perils of gang crime, rather than to convict people proportionately. Witnesses told the MPs that joint enterprise was being used as a ‘dragnet’ that was ‘hoovering up young people from ethnic minority communities’ who had ‘peripheral, minor or in some cases even non-existent involvement in serious criminal acts’ and ‘imposing draconian penalties on them’.

JENGbA, a grass roots campaign comprising largely working class women,  has proved remarkably effective persuading the justice committee to look at the issue, not once but twice (2011 and 2014). Jimmy McGovern made the film Common for the BBC, broadcast last year, after one of the mothers wrote to the author. ‘She put the wrong postcode on the letter,’ Morrison says. ‘Jimmy felt bad because he had not responded, and rather than just writing back and saying ‘Sorry, no…’, he went round for a cuppa.’ McGovern ended up making the drama and is now a JENGbA parton (alongside former chief exec of the Commission for Racial Equality Lord Herman Ouseley).

According to statistics obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism under a freedom of information request, 1,853 people were prosecuted for homicides involving four or more defendants between 2005 and 2013 which almost certainly relied upon joint enterprise – and 4,590 for homicides involving two or more. More than one of five of all Court of Appeal rulings in 2013 related to joint enterprise cases (22%). That was – according to Dr Matthew Dyson of Cambridge University – a ‘terrifying statistic and evidence of the constant appeals against this doctrine’.

It could have been my son
‘I instinctively knew that joint enterprise was about racism,’ says Morrison. She became involved in JENGbA as a result of the experience of her son’s best friend. In 2007 Kenneth Alexander was found guilty of murder given a life sentence as a result of his part in the April 2005 stabbing death of Michael Campbell. Alexander was semi-conscious having been hit on the back of the head at the time of the killing, Morrison says. ‘It was Alexander’s role in ringing friends to call in reinforcements for a possible confrontation that provided the prosecution with his “joint enterprise”,’ she explains. ‘That he knew some of his mates carried knives, even though he never did, was also a factor in his conviction.’


‘It could have been my son. The boys all went to the same Catholic school in West London. All the boys were black. My son is white. They all came from affluent backgrounds. Ken’s mother is a psychologist. The boy who did do the stabbing was the son of a deputy head-teacher.’
Gloria Morrison

Every week new families contact JENGbA. The day before the interview there was a meeting in Birmingham. ‘Five people contacted us. Almost every single name was Asian,’ Morrison says.

‘I had never even heard of “joint enterprise” until it happened to me,’ Barbara, one of the JENGbA volunteers, tells me. Her son was only 19 years old when he was sentenced to 24 years last March. He is presently in HMP High Down, Surrey as a result of his part in a fatal stabbing after an altercation with a Somalian gang.

She admits her son was involved in the fight that led to the killing. ‘I am not saying he is innocent but he’s not guilty of murder,’ she says. After he was sentenced, Barbara’s other son was attacked by the gang and other members of the family were threatened with having acid thrown in their faces. Barbara ended up being housed temporarily in a safe house with her daughter for a year and has now moved out of Kentish Town.

Barbara says her son is ‘holding up. He knows we are here outside fighting for him.’ Barbara struggles to make sense of the sentence. ‘My son always says: “I would never change my plea. I am not pleading guilty for something I didn’t do.”’ There was no evidence to say that my son had a knife. A boy pleaded guilty on the first day of the trial. The judge sentenced my son and a co-defendant to longer than the kid who actually did it. They didn’t have any weapons on them. Sentence them to the part that they played – but not to murder. I just don’t understand it.’

Gloria Morrison says that she and her colleagues don’t sit ‘as judge and jury’ when someone rings up. ‘I say to them “You do not have to prove it to me what their involvement was, if any.” They have already been tried once in a court of law which I do not trust any more. If the courts are using this kind of charge, they don’t have any credibility.’



2 responses to “Caught in the joint enterprise dragnet”

  1. Christopher Lennon says:

    The case going before the Supreme Court offers the chance of a change in the law. Probably not a drastic change, mind you, but one that may offer some relief from, or limit, the application of Joint Enterprise, as suggested recently by two distinguished Legal academics, Professors W. Wilson and D. Ormerod (“Simply harsh to fairly simple: joint enterprise reform” Crim. L.R. 2015, 1,3-27). The law on guilt by association is not going to be discarded altogether and JENGbA should acclimatise themselves.
    As for persons already imprisoned, the route must be a careful examination of the evidence put to the jury in court in the individual’s case and any new evidence. This is the second reason I find JENGbA’s ambitions unrealistic, because it must be doubted how many of these prisoners will have their convictions overturned. Perhaps a reduction in sentence would be a more realistic objective in many cases.
    The case cited by Gloria Morrison in the post may not be one to take forward, given the account that the prisoner was instrumental in bringing about the circumstances in which the victim died. This sort of scenario is true of many of those convicted, whose stories can be read on JENGbA’s website. They are not very convincing as to innocence, most of them, mainly because they were posted by the families and seek only to exculpate their boy / girl, without offering too many facts.
    I think the charge of racism is likely to fail. This is not a racial issue, but the disproportionate involvement of ethnic minorities in violent gang crime is a fact of life, certainly in London. Incidents like the quite recent one at Victoria Station, where a teenager was chased and cornered and then murdered on the Concourse horrified bystanders and the public and it is hardly surprising.
    Although the criminal law has changed a great deal and for the better, over centuries of development, if you think about it, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was a case of Joint Enterprise. Only Guy Fawkes was arrested in delicto, with the matches, but half a dozen conspirators not present at the scene were executed and several others died in a shoot-out miles away whilst resisting arrest. This is not a new doctrine, but a very old constituent of the common law and a joined-up campaign would recognise that fact.
    In some of the ‘Asian grooming gang’ cases, is it not the case some of those involved have been convicted of pimping and similar offences, rather than actual rape? Have they not been sentenced similarly to the rapists and rightly so?
    Finally, it is a small point, but JENGbA should be sticklers for accuracy, if they wish to progress their cause. Herman Ouseley is not the son of a Duke or Marquess, as far as I know and therefore he is correctly referred to as ‘Lord Ouseley’, or ‘Herman, Lord Ouseley’

  2. andrea garvey says:

    I have a personal interest on the subject of joint enterprise as I was involved in preparing an appeal against a joint enterprise murder conviction in 1997. I totally understand the legal definition in relation to other parties who did not commit the act, namely .’..provided it was proved that he foresaw the event as a real or substantial risk and nonetheless lent his assistance.’..-Involvement in illegal acts where you know your accomplices are carrying weapons and you still participate, knowing there is a possibility you could be confronted, is enough to render all parties liable for whatever takes place in the course of their intended actions. My concern are the methods used by investigators to prove to jurors that they had a tendency to carry weapons or use of weapons previously. In the case I was involved with, police investigation for previous incidents involving weapons by the three accused of joint enterprise of murder, was imaginative and extremely speculative at best. In the case a knife was used in the course of a burglary whereby the three defendants were confronted by the homeowner and one of them stabbed him and he died. All three were convicted under the joint enterprise law. Two of the defendants emphatically denied either the stabbing or knowledge that anyone of the party had a knife or had a history of knife use. To prove this was not the case, children testified that while out camping one night, one of the defendants had come across the field where they were camping. They stated he was with another boy not unlike one of the other defendants, but could not say for certain, and had helped them open a tin of beans they were struggling to open, with a knife he had, that he pulled out of his waistband of his trousers. This was the evidence presented as previous history of carrying weapons. The boys were all around eleven years of age and had been recounting alleged events of the previous summer. All three of the boys that were videoed had uncannily similar statements, almost word for word. They made the defendant sound like Rambo pulling this knife out of his waistband, but you couldn’t help but think, surely if that was the case, he was at serious risk of cutting himself if it did happen as they described with the serrated edged large knife that the young boys had described. It was an extremely far fetched account and the age of the boys was another factor for the jury to have thought very long and hard about the credibility of this evidence. None of the boys could say for certain that the person with the knife user was either of the other two defendants, unyet it was enough to convince the jury of a history of knife carrying and all three convictions. Chan Wing-Siu v R [1985] A.C. 168,PC; was the definition of joint enterprise that was given to the jury to retire with.
    I understand joint enterprise, but methods used for proving prior use of weapons, prior knowledge of weapon use and also methods used to try to prove all parties provide assistance or encouragement, which is also necessary, are done far too imaginatively, to jurors who take it as fact. Far more stricter guidelines need to be prepared with a narrower test for what is accepted as proof of previous weapon use and the need to ensure proof is present and understood by jurors.

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