Simon Natas Comments On Joint Enterprise in the Guardian


Source: The Guardian

There has been a growing chorus of discontent from legal experts and campaigners over the extensive use in the last decade of this 300-year-old legislation to find people guilty of a violent crime if they are judged to have lent encouragement to the main perpetrator. It is criticised for dragging innocent bystanders and lesser participants into a serious crime and condemning them to long jail terms, when arguably they should never have been charged, let alone convicted. Nobody knows how many people are imprisoned under joint enterprise as there is no official data. But the family campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (Jengba) has 370 cases on its books.

Wayne Collins, 25, a barber from Luton, who is serving an 18-year sentence, is a typical case. He and a friend were at the Barton Arms pub in Aston, Birmingham, one night in August 2010, where a group of men, whom Collins didn't know, were milling around. Within seconds, the group started smashing up the pub and setting fire to it. The rioting lasted six minutes, during which police and a helicopter arrived. When the crowd started running, so did Collins, as someone fired at the police. His presence at the scene of the crime, and "association" with two co-defendants, one of whom was found guilty of shooting, was enough to get him convicted.

Because it was alleged that he had been with one of the gunmen during the day and his mobile had been tracked to the same location as this man's phone, it was "inferred" that he would have known that the man had a gun and planned to use it. Therefore, Collins was complicit in a joint enterprise, his presence an encouragement, his association meaning he shared a common purpose to commit the subsequent crimes. He was convicted of arson with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, and rioting.

The committee recommended that the DPP urgently issue guidelines for the CPS to provide a more uniform approach to prosecuting under joint enterprise. They come too late for Collins. But Simon Natas, a criminal defence lawyer with a specific interest in this area, says they "may help to weed out the weakest cases. [Until now] we don't know how prosecutors have arrived at their decisions when charging joint enterprise cases. It's reasonable to assume that without this kind of guidance there have been considerable variations." But he adds: "The fundamental problem – which these guidelines explicitly do not change – is that under joint enterprise the bar is set too low and can result in miscarriages of justice. People are convicted of very serious offences, even murder, when they haven't intended that the offence should be committed."

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