The Crown Prosecution Service is facing a legal challenge over its use of ‘discredited’ joint enterprise law. The human rights group Liberty, acting on behalf of the campaign group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association), is arguing that ‘the use of racist stereotypes and gang narratives’ could be leading to young Black men being disproportionately prosecuted under the common law doctrine which allow people on the fringes of an incident to be be convicted of murder or manslaughter.
According to Liberty, joint enterprise is ‘frequently used to prosecute young Black men in “gang” related cases, in which whole groups are convicted of a crime committed by one person on the back of prejudicial evidence that they are in a gang’. The group argues say that such ‘evidence’ could be ‘inaccurate and likely to be premised on racist stereotypes’.
As reported on the Justice Gap, the Supreme Court in 2016 finding that the courts had ‘taken a wrong turn’ and that the law has been misinterpreted for years. However, the Court of Appeal subsequently close down the avenue for convictions and only one conviction has so far been overturned.
Liberty highlight research illustrating how joint enterprise is used disproportionately against young black men. They say that, of young male prisoners serving 15 years or more for joint enterprise convictions, 57% were from Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority backgrounds (BAME) – despite less than 6% of the population being from BAME groups. In spite of these concerns, in a letter to Liberty the CPS admitted that neither they nor, to the best of their knowledge, the MoJ record or monitors data regarding joint enterprise prosecutions. There have been repeated calls, including two reports from the House of Commons’ justice committee, calling on the Ministry of Justice to record such data.
‘Campaigners have been raising concerns for years about racism and joint enterprise prosecutions, and the Justice Committee recommended as early as 2012 that the CPS and MoJ should start collating data about joint enterprise prosecutions,’ comments Lana Adamou, a lawyer at Liberty. ‘It’s completely unacceptable that there is still no official data being recorded about how the doctrine is used, and who it is used against. By failing to do so, the justice system has been recklessly sweeping thousands of young black men into the prison system.’
Gloria Morrison, co-founder of JENGbA, said that JENGbA have been campaigning for years highlighting the ‘racist application of joint enterprise’ to over-criminalise people from marginalised communities. ‘It is common law, used against common people, that makes no common sense.’