19 February 2016

The Supreme Court rules on the misuse of joint enterprise

Alice Roberti's avatar

For the first time, the legal concept of joint enterprise has been successfully challenged

On 18 February the Supreme Court declared that the legal concept of joint enterprise has been misinterpreted for 30 years, a victory both for campaigners against the law and for justice. Thanks to this ruling, when two or more people have a common purpose or ‘joint enterprise’ to commit a crime, if during the course of that crime a second one is committed by one of the parties, it will no longer be sufficient in order to convict the other parties of the second crime to show merely that they could have foreseen that it might be committed, rather than that they actually intended for it to take place.  

Joint enterprise has been used widely by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to fight ‘gangs’ and the widening of its application has been linked to the police’s approach to youth violence and knife crime.  It is yet another instrument within the criminal justice system that disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities as well as white working class youth.  In 2014 alone, JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) an organisation that campaigns to reform legal abuse by joint enterprise, supported 450 prisoners and 78% were from BME communities.  As the CPS does not keep records of its use of this legal power, it has been difficult to evidence further its ethnic disproportionality. 

Unfortunately, many of those convicted under the principle will now be well outside the time limit for appeals and will require special leave from the Criminal Court of Appeal to challenge their convictions and often very long sentences, especially for ‘joint enterprise’ murders. This is why the fight to ensure justice for those who have been wrongly convicted under this particular interpretation of joint enterprise must continue, as well as to challenge the law of joint enterprise more widely.    

Nonetheless, the judgment is the first time the relentless widening of the power and its use over recent decades by the courts, police and CPS has been successfully challenged and represents a victory for JENGbA and other campaigners against joint enterprise.