Gangs: joint enterprise explained

For the final part of ELL’s series on gangs, Tara Dein and Marianna Manson take a look at the legal doctrine that has seen hundreds of prisoners “unjustly” convicted.

JENGbA campaigning. Pic: ???

JENGbA campaigning. Pic:

In a landmark judgement in February, the Supreme Court declared that the joint enterprise doctrine, which has allowed people to be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow, has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years.

The long-established principle of joint enterprise allowed defendants to be found guilty of offences committed by another person if they agreed to act together for a common purpose, and it was proven that the defendant could have foreseen the violent actions of their associates. In a unanimous decision, however, judges ruled that it was wrong to treat “foresight” as a sufficient test, which could pave the way for hundreds of prisoners to seek appeals.

“The joint enterprise rule has been used to get mass convictions without evidence, causing devastation for families,” says Gloria Morrison, one of the core members of Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association, a grassroots initiative set up in 2010 by families wanting to “highlight the abuse of the joint enterprise doctrine.” At the present time, the charity is supporting hundreds of prisoners whose convictions, JENGbA believe, had been unjustly served.

Morrison says: “I started this campaign when my son’s best friend was given life for a murder he didn’t commit, ten years ago. I thought he would be okay, because he clearly had not murdered anybody. I phoned up his solicitor right away and asked how we could appeal and he said, ‘You can’t just appeal because you don’t like the sentence.’”

Gloria is adamant that the Supreme Court ruling is a key development in the justice system for young Londoners. “What we now want is a full enquiry into all joint enterprise cases. The language used in court and in the media – terms like, ‘feral youth’, and ‘broken Britain’ – is evocative. It is highly controversial to keep labelling groups ‘gangs’ just because it’s convenient.”

Reporting team: Tara Dein, Annie Gouk, Henry Longden, and Marianna Manson

Read the other articles in this series here:

Gangs: what you need to know

Gangs: the victims

Gangs: the mother’s story

Gangs: the former member’s story

Gangs: causes and consequences

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