What's happening in joint enterprise cases now?

Matt Ford
Wednesday, 26 May 2021

A few weeks ago my colleague Helen announced our new project on joint enterprise and briefly covered the activities we’ll be carrying out over the next 15 months. 

Here I give a bit of context about why we’re doing this work now.

Our work so far

Five years ago, we published a seminal report on joint enterprise.

Dangerous Associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism was a collaboration between CCJS, academics and the campaign organisation JENGbA.

It explored how black and minority ethnic people are identified as members of dangerous ‘gangs’ and then collectively punished using joint enterprise.  

What's happened since?

A few significant developments occurred since we published Dangerous Associations, following years of work by campaigners. 

'Wrong turn' in how joint enterprise is applied

Shortly after the report came out, the supreme court ruled that the joint enterprise doctrine had been misinterpreted for 30 years.

Previously, someone could be convicted of an offence even though they didn’t do it, simply because, while committing another offence, they foresaw that their accomplice might go on to commit a different one.

The most concerning application of this principle was in murder cases, where conviction attracts a mandatory minimum sentence. If the murder involved a knife, the minimum sentence is 25 years in prison, and 30 if it involved a firearm.

Often people were sentenced to decades in prison for murder despite the fact they did not kill nor intend anyone else to kill the victim.

Following the supreme court ruling, juries now need to be sure that the defendants definitely intended to assist or encourage the principal to commit the crime in question to be convicted using joint enterprise. 

Appeals for people already convicted?

Even though the court ruled the law had been misinterpreted for decades, hopes this would mean many cases could be appealed were quickly extinguished.

Under the ‘substantial injustice test’, appellants would need to prove that they would not have been convicted if the law had been correctly applied.

So far only one person has successfully overturned their joint enterprise conviction.

Change in the CPS guidance

In 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service updated their guidance to clarify certain aspects of the doctrine in light of the ruling.

Nobody knows for certain the impacts on the number and nature of joint enterprise prosecutions since. 

Our new project

We’ll be exploring what joint enterprise prosecutions look like now, including the effects the ruling and updated guidance have had on practice.

We’ll provide regular updates as evidence emerges and our thinking develops. Please get in touch if you have knowledge or experience in this area to share or to keep up to date with the project.