Stories of Injustice: The criminalisation of women convicted under joint enterprise laws

Becky Clarke
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

It is nearly five years since we published Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism, a report which came from the collaborative project between researchers and campaigners at JENGbA and CCJS.

A new report, Stories of Injustice: The criminalisation of women convicted under joint enterprise laws, was published earlier this week highlighting new and disturbing evidence of the hidden and ongoing injustice of joint enterprise laws in England and Wales. Drawing on personal testimonies the research uncovers over 100 girls and women convicted as secondary parties, most serving long and life sentences for convictions of murder or manslaughter, who have not committed violence. Sixteen of these women have been convicted since the Supreme Court ruling in 2016 – suggesting that little has changed since it was acknowledged that the, "law has taken a wrong turn".

This research examines the process of criminalisation, revealing there are a number of critical moments, decisions and actions, or omissions that lead to these wrongful convictions. This begins with the early actions of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and their decisions to charge women with serious violent crimes. Significantly, once in a trial as a defendant, the findings then reveal a range of strategies drawn on by the prosecution teams to support the conviction of women regardless of their lack of involvement, lack of violence or presence at the scene.

This involves a dual process, simultaneously obscuring the context and silencing the immediate and longstanding experiences of violence that many women have experienced, yet over emphasising their ‘involvement’ or ‘role’. To construct the women’s role or culpability the prosecution draw on a number of lines of argument:  her presence was encouragement; she should have foreseen what would happen; she intended the violence to occur for X reason; her non-action during and/or after the event indicates a common purpose.

These arguments rely heavily on a number of myths, stereotypes and gendered narratives. These can draw on, echo and feed on and into wider mediated narratives and often draw attention to the ways in which they have failed as girls or women. Importantly, the findings show how defence teams are complicit in silencing by failing to introduce important contextual factors or engage in adequate challenge to these gendered narratives. 

The report highlights critical concerns, demands calls for intervention, and asks us to reimagine justice and what this means for girls and women marginalised and criminalised by the continued injustice of the legal principles underpinning joint enterprise legislation.  

Becky Clarke is a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University and co-author of both Dangerous Associations and Stories of Injustice