Free expression / Policing

Liberty raise alarm over human rights impacts of ‘gang’ evidence in joint enterprise cases

Posted on 23 Aug 2023

Liberty have made submissions in support of three Black men who are applying to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, asking for permission to appeal their murder convictions on the grounds of institutional racism by Greater Manchester Police and the criminal justice system.

Durrell Goodall, Reano Walters and Nathanial Williams were convicted as teenagers under the ‘joint enterprise’ doctrine, which allows secondary offenders to be prosecuted as if they were the main offender – leading to bystanders, or people involved in much lesser criminal offences, being convicted of murder or manslaughter.

One teenager, Devonte Cantrill, was found to have committed the fatal stabbing, but eleven defendants were convicted for the killing. At the trials, Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service used a rap video and mobile phone images as ‘evidence’ that the eleven were members of a gang.

In its submissions, Liberty argue that the use of this kind of evidence is disproportionately used against young Black people, and risks breaching defendants’ human rights – in particular, the right to a private and family life, and the right to freedom of expression.

Emmanuelle Andrews, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty, said:

“We are extremely concerned about the impact on freedom of expression of the use of so-called ‘gang’ evidence, and in particular the use of drill music videos and lyrics, in joint enterprise prosecutions such as this one.

“We know young Black men are particularly likely to be targeted by joint enterprise prosecutions, which unfairly sweep people into the criminal justice system – often on the basis of dubious evidence that young people were ‘in a gang.’ We also know that the notion of a ‘gang’ is not only poorly-defined, but is also heavily racialised, and that the policing of ‘gangs’ is used to criminalise young Black men and boys’ friendships.

“The increasing use of drill music videos as evidence of ‘gang’ affiliation is worrying, both because of the disproportionate impact it is likely to have on young Black men and boys, but also because it is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of young Black people to make art – particularly in a context where cuts to the arts have already made this kind of expression much harder

“It’s crucial that we resist the moral panic around ‘gangs’ which is used to justify the harmful policing and punishment of young Black men and boys. We must also push back against the criminalisation of Black culture. Instead, we need to see approaches to tackling violence and harm which tackle the root causes of social issues, and have human rights, social justice and participation at their heart.”

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