MPs and Peers will today hear calls for urgent action to address the injustices of joint enterprise convictions. The call follows the publication of results of a survey of nearly 250 serving prisoners convicted under joint enterprise provisions. The survey found clear evidence that black and minority ethnic people are serving long prison sentences because of unfair and racist criminal justice practices. The survey forms part of a new report on joint enterprise, Dangerous associations, published yesterday by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.
In December 2014 the House of Commons Justice Committee called for an urgent review of joint enterprise powers, following mounting evidence that innocent people had been convicted of serious offences. At a House of Commons meeting today, hosted by Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, parliamentarians will hear calls for the government to review the use of joint enterprise powers. Other parliamentarians expected to be attending include: Shadow Minister for Human Rights, Andy Slaughter MP; Lord Beith, chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee at the time it made its call for an urgent review; and Lord Ouseley, former chair and chief executive of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Will McMahon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said:
‘The House of Commons Justice Committee called for an urgent review of joint enterprise powers over a year ago, after they found evidence of unfairness in joint enterprise prosecutions and convictions. Since then, there has been little evidence of government action.
‘Serious questions have to be asked about the processes that lead to so many young black men being convicted under joint enterprise powers.
‘We need a commitment from the government to publish reliable data on joint enterprise prosecutions, convictions and appeals. An urgent review of the current use of joint enterprise powers is also needed.’
Patrick Williams of Manchester Metropolitan University, lead author of the report, Dangerous associations, said:
'The harm caused by serious violence is a tragedy. The injustice experienced by individuals and families wrongly convicted under joint enterprise laws extends this human tragedy.
'Our research has unearthed a number of simple, yet dangerous, associations which result in the prosecution and conviction of young black and minority ethnic men through joint enterprise laws.
'The analysis reveals the centrality of gangs speak as a mechanism for prosecution teams to imply common purpose and demonstrate possible foresight. Overwhelmingly, prisoners convicted under joint enterprise powers contest these gang labels.
'The analysis of police information challenges the use of racist stereotypes - suggesting that young black men are not responsible for the majority of serious violence.'
Gloria Morrison, Campaign Co-ordinator for JENGbA - Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association, said:
'If you give a sledgehammer that is joint enterprise to the police and prosecutors, they will use it to ensure results but not necessarily justice. It does not give justice to victims and their families to criminalise huge numbers of people for the crimes commited by others.
'JENGbA are grateful to Manchester Metropolitan University and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies for this important report. The Justice Select Committee in 2014 called for urgent reform in joint enterprise charging because of research that clearly showed that the doctrine discriminates against black and minority ethnic people. This report is further evidence to support the need for urgent reform.'