Last week, my colleague Helen Mills spoke at an event organised by JENGbA (Joint Enterprise, Not Guilty by Association).
Helen talked about our soon-to-be-published research on joint enterprise prosecutions. It was a sobering talk. Whatever the intentions of police officers and prosecutors, it is clear, for instance, that the effect of joint enterprise prosecutions is highly discriminatory, particularly against young black men.
Six years ago this month, the Supreme Court ruled that the laws around joint enterprise – where an individual can be found guilty of a crime merely for their association with the main perpetrator – had been wrongly applied for some thirty years. The implication of the ruling was obvious: thousands of people had very likely been wrongly convicted for various crimes, some of them very serious and with long prison sentences.
Given this, there is one finding from our research that particularly stands out for me. Despite the Supreme Court ruling six years ago, we found no evidence that the ruling has had any discernible impact on the overall number of joint enterprise prosecutions.
We will be publishing our research later in the spring, and are supporting JENGbA's call for the law to be changed, to make it easier for those wrongly convicted to gain their freedom. The injustice of joint enterprise prosecutions is one of the items up for discussion on the next edition of Last month in criminal justice, on 2 March, when I'll be delighted to be joined by Charlotte Henry from JENGbA.
Another conspicuous current injustice is the open-ended Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence. While the sentence was abolished in 2012, thousands of people remain languishing in prison, unsure of when, if ever, they will be released. Thousands more who have been released from prison live under the constant shadow of being sent back to prison, in many cases for the most minor of errors or infractions.
In our recent evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee, we estimated that more than 2,000 prisoners could still be serving IPPs in 2030, nearly two decades after the sentence was abolished. Parliament recognised nearly a decade ago that the sentences was unjust. It is time for all IPP prison sentences to be retrospectively abolished.
Next week, in our latest Lunch with... programme, I will be discussing the campaign for justice for those subjected to IPP sentences with Donna Mooney and Shirley Debono of the campaign group, UNGRIPP. This forms part of a broader programme of work we are currently doing, examining the impact of the IPP sentence on prisoners and their families, and examining options for reform.