Access to justice / Policing


Posted on 15 Feb 2023

  • CPS agree to trial monitoring data on those prosecuted under controversial joint enterprise doctrine after a legal challenge from campaigners  
  • Research suggests people of colour, particularly Black boys and young men, are disproportionately targeted by Joint Enterprise but CPS doesn’t record this data 
  • Campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) took legal action against the CPS 

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has agreed to a pilot scheme to monitor data on the age, race, sex and disability of those prosecuted under the joint enterprise doctrine after a legal challenge from campaign group JENGbA, represented by Liberty.

The controversial doctrine, which has led to people being convicted of murder or manslaughter even if they did not play a decisive role, has been used to prosecute people of colour, in particular Black boys and young men, in so-called ‘gang’ related cases – with whole groups often convicted for a crime committed by one person on the back of allegations that they are in a gang.

However, despite research suggesting for over a decade that the joint enterprise laws are used disproportionately against people of colour, the CPS does not record any data about those prosecuted under joint enterprise, which conceals the full nature and extent of the problem. Of young males serving 15 years or more for Joint Enterprise convictions, nearly 60% are Black, Asian or from Minority Ethnic backgrounds (BAME) and nearly 40% are Black.

In 2012, the Justice Committee recommended that the CPS should start recording and monitoring data about joint enterprise prosecutions – but only now, after a legal challenge, will they do so.

Following the legal action by JENGbA, as part of the pilot scheme to record this data, the CPS has also agreed to monitor when joint enterprise prosecutions have been presented as ‘gang-related’ cases, and whether their own guidance on gang-related cases has been followed. After six months, the initial findings will be published.

JENGbA is led by Gloria Morrison and Jan Cunliffe, who both have loved ones convicted under the joint enterprise doctrine. After their campaigning, in 2016 the Supreme Court reconsidered the joint enterprise doctrine, and found that the justice system had “taken a wrong turn”, with the law on joint enterprise being misinterpreted for years. However, despite high hopes, this did not steer the law back on course or rectify the wrongful convictions it created.

Now, JENGbA and Liberty are calling for Joint Enterprise to be scrapped altogether, saying it sweeps young men into the criminal justice system.

Gloria Morrison and Jan Cunliffe, co-founders of JENGbA, said:  

“Joint enterprise prosecutions are racist, deliberately targeting marginalised communities by collectively punishing them. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware that this doctrine is used to criminalise groups of often vulnerable young people of colour, but with Liberty’s invaluable help we have been able to demand that the CPS records the data of ethnicity and disabilities and report on this data in the coming months.

“The Government’s ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric has been harnessed to give Life sentences to innocent secondary parties – it is a stain on our justice system and one that debunks any notion of the best justice system in the world.

“The evidential bar in a joint enterprise case is so low that any one of us could be convicted of someone else’s crime. All a prosecutor needs is a gang narrative, instead of real evidence, to convict multiple people of murder. If there was such a dreadful loophole in the law that allowed defendants to get away with murder it would have been tightened 40 years ago.

“Today’s win is just the first win in a huge battle to create a justice system that we can all trust.”

Lana Adamou, a lawyer at Liberty, said:  

“We all want our communities to be safe, and for our laws to treat us equally. But research indicates that for many years now joint enterprise has been overwhelmingly used against people of colour, in particular Black boys and young men, sweeping  countless people unfairly into the criminal justice system, with many serving very long prison sentences, in some cases life sentences, for crimes they did not commit.

“Today’s win is a huge step forward for campaigners like Jan and Gloria, as well as the families and inside campaigners who have supported JENGbA and  have worked tirelessly for years to challenge the injustice of joint enterprise.

“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 should start recording and monitoring data about joint enterprise prosecutions. Now the CPS has finally agreed it will begin doing so.

“This is not the end of the battle, but being able to see plainly the extent of any discrimination in who is targeted under the joint enterprise doctrine is a crucial step forward in ending its use.”

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