Concerns are being expressed over large numbers of prisoners sentenced to life sentences with long tariffs because of the use of the Joint Enterprise interpretation of the law to convict them. The law of Joint Enterprise was originally brought in 300 years ago to deter those involved in duelling, as the courts could then charge and convict all those present at the scene because they were all complicit in the act.
The police are now using the Joint Enterprise law in the loosest sense to charge and convict groups, often of schoolchildren, for spontaneous acts of violence. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have portrayed these children as gangsters and brought down the full force of the law on them. Many of the cases should have been no more than manslaughter charges but with the use of media hyperbole and moral panic about ‘feral children’ running around like ‘wolfpacks’ the CJS has caved in to the media and abused the law to prepare cases of murder to gullible juries.
A campaign has been started to highlight this issue and in the first survey some 200 prisoners have replied that they have been unjustly convicted using this law. The Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) campaign co-ordinator, Gloria Morrison says: ‘This is a lazy law and it appears that it is being used as a form of social and ethnic cleansing by the police.’
According to JENGbA, by using Joint Enterprise, the police and lawyers are taking advantage of the law and convicting many people for a crime committed by one person. In a case that will be coming to court early next year, 21 school children will be charged with murder for a fight in Victoria Station which resulted in a death.
JENGbA says that evidence in many cases is often circumstantial, hearsay and sometimes based on mobile phone cell location, as opposed to actual presence, but life sentences with tariffs up to 33 years have been given when the ‘enterprise’ has been classed as gang activity.
One of the most controversial cases involves a blind 15-year-boy who was convicted of murder for his mere presence at the scene of a spontaneous incident. He was not alleged to have taken part and no weapon was used.
The number of Joint Enterprise cases is not recorded, although a recent question in the House of Lords by Herman Ouseley is seeking to uncover just how widespread its use is.
Any prisoners or families and partners of prisoners who were convicted on the basis of Joint Enterprise should get in touch with JENGbA, 27a Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AX www.jointenterprise.co