Caught in the dragnet

The controversial legal notion of ‘joint enterprise’ is being used against protesters and alleged gang members alike. Jon Robins reports

May 24, 2012
4 min read


Jon RobinsJon Robins is a freelance journalist and editor of www.thejusticegap.com

Detective Chief Inspector John McFarlane recently cited the ‘joint enterprise’ rule as a ‘deterrent’ to young people who ‘think they will not be prosecuted or go to prison just because they did not deliver the fatal blow’. This arcane legal doctrine effectively means that anyone who agrees to commit a crime with another becomes liable for everything that person does during the offence.

McFarlane was talking about the case of Zac Olumegbon. At the end of last year, the Old Bailey heard that within moments of being chased down by teenagers, Zac – just 15 years old – lay dying on his back in the garden of a house within yards of his school in West Norwood, south London. His killers, thought to be members of the GAS (Guns and Shanks) gang, were given long periods of detention for his killing. Zac was associated with another gang, TN1 (Trust No One).

According to McFarlane, ‘The law on “joint enterprise” is clear and unforgiving – if you are with the knifeman in a murder case you too could be found guilty and sent to prison.’

‘Unforgiving’, yes, but it appears to be anything but ‘clear’. There is growing concern at the way the notion of ‘joint enterprise’ is being deployed by prosecuting authorities and the courts – and it’s not just being used against gangs. Other targets have included, for example, anti-tax avoidance protesters from UK Uncut at a demo at Fortnum & Mason. Ten defendants have already been given six-month conditional discharges and ordered to pay £1,000 court costs after being found guilty of intent to intimidate staff and shoppers. The court held that the 10 were involved in a ‘joint enterprise’ and responsible for the actions of others in the store by their presence. The cases of a further 19 were due to be heard as Red Pepper went to press.

Not innocent but not murderers

Earlier this year, the justice select committee found joint enterprise ‘so confusing’ that it said legislation was necessary to ensure justice for both victims and defendants and to stop so many cases reaching the Court of Appeal.

The Prison Reform Trust, in its evidence to the committee, memorably damned ‘joint enterprise’ as serving as ‘a dragnet’ to bring individuals into the criminal justice system who ‘do not necessarily need to be there’. The Committee on the Reform of Joint Enterprise – a group comprising lawyers, academics and ‘otherwise concerned individuals and groups’ – told MPs that joint enterprise convictions resulted in ‘the labelling of individuals who – albeit not entirely innocent – cannot properly be called “murderers”.’

Gloria Morrison is active in the campaigning group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association). She became involved as a result of the experience of her son’s best friend. Six years ago Kenneth Alexander was given a life sentence following a fatal stabbing. As a recent BBC Panorama programme examining the case put it, it was ‘Alexander’s role in ringing friends to call in reinforcements for a possible confrontation that provided the prosecution with his “joint enterprise”. That he knew some of his mates carried knives, even though he never did, was also a factor in his conviction.’

What about the deterrent effect? Surely such convictions send out a strong message to young people getting involved in gangs and carrying knives? ‘We are not talking about gangs,’ Morrison says. ‘We are talking about groups of young people who are together. The idea that this is to tackle gangs is a misunderstanding. This law is not working.’

As part of London against Injustice, Morrison put an advertisement in the prisoners’ newspaper Inside Time calling for prisoners convicted under joint enterprise to attend a meeting. She describes the response as ‘overwhelming’. ‘Some 275 prisoners have contacted us. We believe it is the tip of an iceberg.’

Of those 275 cases, at least 152 are from black and minority ethnic communities. ‘Overwhelmingly, our prisoners come from poor neighbourhoods and because of cuts to legal aid they have often been failed by poor legal representation,’ says Morrison. ‘We have people with absolutely no involvement with a crime – none – doing a life sentence.’

Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association: www.jointenterprise.co and blog at jengba.blogspot.co.uk


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


5