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The Declining Popularity of Joint Enterprise in Gang-Related Homicides: An In-Depth Analysis

Joint enterprise is a 300-year-old legal doctrine which is used to prosecute gangs in murder cases but is it ‘racist’ and should it be used less?

Campaigners against the use of the law of joint enterprise in gang murder cases—which they claim is “racist”—are confident they will get legal changes pushed through in the next year.

Jan Cunliffe, co-founder of the campaign group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Guilty By Association), told The Epoch Times they were confident the law would be amended so people who were “in the wrong place at the wrong time” were not given life sentences for murder.

Joint enterprise is a 300-year-old legal principle which states that if a group set out on a course of action—for example murder—then they are all equally guilty of that crime, even if only of them stabs or shoots the victim.

On Tuesday four men were jailed for life for the murder of drill rapper Giddy and his cousin.

Although Zain Mirza, 21, did not join Chibuike Ohanweh, 21, Ayaanle Adan, 20, and Mahad Gouled, 22, when they went out and killed the two men, he was convicted of being part of a joint enterprise on the basis of evidence which proved he instigated the attack to avenge the murder of his brother by Giddy’s gang in 2019.

Prosecutor Brian O’Neill KC told the jury, “Careful to be at arm’s length from the events … he had helped to facilitate and to arrange, he was the one who most wanted it done, his motive was revenge.”

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Norman Brennan, a knife crime and homicide commentator who served 31 years in the police in London, told The Epoch Times he believed joint enterprise had been increasingly used in the past 20 years because there had been a rise in gang killings.

He said: “If they’re in groups of six to ten on mopeds or on foot, sometimes in cars, and if their aim is to attack a rival gang member, the whole group really are involved in the joint enterprise because their aim and objective is to injure or kill a rival gang member.”

‘Intent and Purpose’

Mr. Brennan said, “So if that’s their intent and purpose on that particular day or evening, that is joint enterprise, because they know what they’re doing, they know one or more of them are armed and if someone is stabbed they know there’s a likelihood that somebody is going to die.”

But JENGbA believes the law of joint enterprise has been used as a dragnet to imprison young men whose role in murders were often peripheral at best.

In Aug. 2022 a judge handed out life sentences to ten youths, aged between 14 and 17, who were convicted of the murder of Jack Woodley.

Jack, 18, had been stabbed with a “Rambo-style” knife by one of the attackers, while several of the others punched and kicked him after an incident at a funfair in Oct. 2021.

After being sentenced, the mother of one of the ten—who admitted he tried to kick Jack during the affray—told The Guardian: “He doesn’t understand why he’s getting murder. That’s the hardest bit, I’ve been trying to explain to him it’s joint enterprise.”

Ms. Cunliffe’s partially-sighted son Jordan was jailed for life under joint enterprise for the murder of Garry Newlove in 2007 and was only released three years ago.

Ironically Gary Newlove’s widow, Helen, now Baroness Newlove, was appointed Victims’ Commissioner in Oct. 2023 and said at the time of her appointment: “I know first-hand the emotions and the pain victims experience on their journey through the criminal justice system … That’s why I am so passionate about championing their cause. I want to see their needs and rights at the forefront of our criminal justice system.”

In 2016 Ameen Jogee, a drug dealer in Leicester, appealed up to the Supreme Court after he was convicted, under joint enterprise, of murdering a man despite being outside the house where his friend, Mohammed Hirsi, stabbed the victim.

‘Law Took a Wrong Turn’

The Supreme Court ruled, “the common law took a wrong turn” in 1985 when it, “allowed secondary parties to be convicted on the basis of mere foresight of an offence.”

The 1985 case was Chan Wing-Siu, one of three men who broke into a flat in an attempt to reclaim a debt. One of the men killed the victim but Chan was convicted of murder and when he appealed, the Privy Council ruled, “foresight of a possible risk is sufficient to establish joint enterprise liability.”

But the Supreme Court said: “This necessary correction to the wrong turning taken by the law does not mean that every person convicted in the past as a secondary party, where the law as stated in Chan Wing-Siu was applied, will have suffered an unsafe conviction.”

While the Jogee case clarified the law, campaigners want to go further and restrict joint enterprise further.

Ms. Cunliffe said she hoped a private member’s bill which has been put forward by Labour MP Kim Johnson would bring a stop to what she sees as the wrongful imprisonment of young men.

Kim Johnson, the MP for Liverpool Riverside, has tabled a private member’s bill in Parliament which would restrict the circumstances in which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) could use joint enterprise to bring murder charges.
Labour MP Kim Johnson—who has tabled a private member's bill to restrict joint enterprise—speaks outside Downing Street in London on March 15, 2023. (PA)
Labour MP Kim Johnson—who has tabled a private member’s bill to restrict joint enterprise—speaks outside Downing Street in London on March 15, 2023. (PA)

The Joint Enterprise (Significant Contribution) Bill would change the law so, “only a person who directly commits, or who makes a significant contribution to the commission of, an offence may be held criminally liable.”

The definition of a “significant contribution” remains unclear.

The bill, which is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons next week, has not only the support of left-wing Labour MPs like John McDonnell and Paula Barker, but also Sir Bob Neill, a Tory MP and chair of the justice select committee, as well as Plaid Cymru’s leader in the Commons, Liz Saville Roberts, and SNP MPs Kenny MacAskill and Chris Stephens.

Ms. Cunliffe said: “No-one is saying abolish joint enterprise completely. Because we all know the bank robber scenario. You all plan a bank robbery, you all go into the bank, someone’s outside in the car, the getaway driver. Everybody’s involved in that crime knows that there is a bank robbery and they’re all in on it. So nobody’s saying take that away.”

But she said individuals should be charged for the crime they committed.

She said: “If there is a death, what was that person’s contribution to that death? So if it’s a stabbing,  were they holding someone down and saying ‘I’ve got him on the floor, stab him, stab him now.’ In that scenario they are both as guilty as each other.”

Ms. Cunliffe said the wife who pays a hitman to kill her husband was equally culpable of murder but she said the big concern was when joint enterprise was used in gang cases.

‘Racist Element to Joint Enterprise’

She said: “There’s definitely a racist element to joint enterprise that is absolutely undeniable. The figures are outrageous. You’re actually 16 times more likely to be convicted of murder or manslaughter if you’re black. There’s only four percent of people in this country are black, and they are 16 times more likely to go to prison for murder with joint enterprise.”

Ms. Cunliffe said: “If you’re black, the gang narrative is much easier to use in a courtroom, to get people convicted.”

In Sep. 2023 the CPS agreed—after a lawsuit was brought by JENGbAto publish data which included monitoring the racial make-up of those charged and convicted under joint enterprise.

The data suggested black people were 16 times more likely to be charged, under joint enterprise, than white people.

Becky Clarke, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, told The Guardian: “Sadly, all the report does is confirm all our concerns about the use of joint enterprise to convict a disproportionate number of people from black, Asian and other racialised defendants.”

But Mr. Brennan said there was no proof the doctrine of joint enterprise was being unfairly used against young black men or that the police were racist.

He said a high percentage of homicides in London and other British cities were committed by young black men on other young black men and it was therefore not surprising they were more likely to be prosecuted, especially as they were over-represented in gangs.

Mr. Brennan said too many black families were “planning funerals instead of futures” for their children as a result of gang and knife crime.

“When you think that we’ve got 4,000 gangs in Britain, about 200 in London. These are major issues, society issues, and nobody seems to get a grip on it,” he said.

Undated image of "honey trap" Samantha Joseph (L) who was jailed for life under joint enterprise for the murder of Shakilus Townsend (R) in London in July 2008. (Metropolitan Police)
Undated image of “honey trap” Samantha Joseph (L) who was jailed for life under joint enterprise for the murder of Shakilus Townsend (R) in London in July 2008. (Metropolitan Police)

In Sep. 2023 the CPS said it planned to launch a national scheme which would monitor joint enterprise homicide and attempted homicide cases on the CPS’s case management system.

A CPS spokeswoman told The Epoch Times, in an email: “We are consulting stakeholders on the design of our full national monitoring scheme. We intend to publish this data annually.”

The CPS also promised to convene a scrutiny panel, “with a focus on joint enterprise cases where evidence of gang association is a feature.”

The CPS spokeswoman told The Epoch Times the national scrutiny panel would meet for the second time on Feb. 2 but she said the meetings were not open to the public.

Kim Johnson was contacted but chose not to speak to The Epoch Times,

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