Ten years ago the House of Commons Justice Select Committee set up an inquiry into the common law doctrine of joint enterprise after concerns were raised about its operation in the courts.
Joint enterprise is a legal tool which allows for multiple individuals to be prosecuted and convicted for the same crime, without taking into account their differing roles or even whether they were present at the scene.
The report of the inquiry, published in 2012, recommended, amongst other things, ‘that data on the number of joint enterprise cases, and the number of appeals, be collated’.
In the follow up report, published in 2014, they further recommended:
...that the Ministry of Justice, in co-operation with the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service as necessary, establish a system which records homicide cases brought under the joint enterprise doctrine.
In early 2020, the Centre made a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice asking if they were recording the information as recommended by the Justice Committee. They said that currently they only record how many defendants are prosecuted and convicted for each offence, not whether a prosecution relied on joint enterprise.
They went on to say that they were considering whether to start recording this information on their new case management system, pilots of which were rolled out towards the end of 2020.
Subsequent follow up emails sent by the Centre reveal that this was not taken up, the pilots of the common platform do not record whether a prosecution relies on joint enterprise. They confirmed the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service similarly do not record this information.
It is particularly concerning at this stage because it makes it difficult to assess what impact the 2016 Supreme Court ruling that particular aspects of the doctrine had been misinterpreted for 30 years has had on the number of prosecutions relying on joint enterprise.
In our new project, where we're working with JENGbA, we're seeking to get approximate data on the number of joint enterprise prosecutions for a number of key offences, to, amongst other things, explore the impacts of the 2016 ruling.
We are currently developing freedom of information requests to get this data and will publish it in due course.
You can view the freedom of information responses from the Ministry of Justice in full by opening the attachments above.