Joint enterprise, a shared project or shared bold undertaking. Imagine half a dozen youngsters aged between twelve and fifteen & an adult on the ‘prowl’ in their neighbourhood of choice. They’ve travelled through several small neighbourhoods ‘foraging’ and now they’ve entered a middle sized grocery store in a pretty run down, grimy looking neighbourhood. It’s a small, poorly staffed business and so the teenagers expect next to no resistance as they steal as much as they can carry. The poorly dressed adult, who is standing out on the street orchestrating the whole event, looks this way and that, whilst calculating how much money he’ll make and what he’ll do with it. He’s so intent upon making his calculations that he doesn’t notice the two police officers who were trailing behind him and his ‘boys’, and who are now watching what’s going on from the opposite side of the road, whilst calling for back up.
This criminal ‘joint enterprise’ is about to go seriously wrong, these guys are going to be arrested, and I doubt a single passer-by feels sorry for them, caught so blatantly in the act. The assumption could be that these are simply impoverished people trying to survive, but in many cases the shabbily dressed adult is only shabbily dressed whilst he’s out earning his living; home isn’t the neighbourhoods he’s helping to destroy. In short this man profiting from the reckless behaviour of several others, may have instigated the crime but it won’t be him the police arrest, and in accordance with the law quite rightly so.
On the 2 July 2010, Zac Olugmebon was stabbed to death, by four men just outside his school gates, in fact he died in the arms of a teacher after being stabbed in the chest six times. Zac attended Park Campus, a pupil refferral unit for youngsters who have been excluded from mainstream education. By all accounts he had settled down to his studies, was considered personable by staff and students,and in short he was doing well. Zac’s death was the result of the escalating violence between two street gangs. Four young men pulled up outside his school, surrounded him outside its gates and fatally wounded him. His was the thirteenth death that year; year upon year the number of deaths from fatal stabbings or shootings soared, that was until the introduction of Joint Enterprise. Since then the statistics have plummeted, and when you consider the minimum sentence for someone found guiltyof this offence it’s easy to understand why.
Kamer Akram was aged 22 when he was convicted of joint enterprise murder. He is currently serving 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t take part in as he had been knocked unconscious; he learnt about the attack when he was revived by a police woman at the scene.
Christopher Richards drove his co-defendant to the victim’s house not knowing that his friend was armed and intended to committ murder, he is now serving 16 years in prison.
Leighton Ryder was convicted of joint enterprise murder in 2010; despite witnesses confirming that he had tried to stop the attack.
‘Joint Enterprise’ a bold undertaking, now imagine this, I’m sitting in my living room listening on my phone to a friend recount his hatred for a former friend (lets call him Colin), whom he says he’s going to shoot. I’m watching episode 5, season 1, of Buffy, so his constant chatter is getting on my nerves. He tells me he’s going out and he’s going to shoot Colin and I say to him, “Yeah, well get on with it” he subsequently goes out and shoots Colin killing him in the process. Now I may have had no conscious desire to see anybody get shot let alone get killed,(my desire was to shut my friend up and finish my episode of Buffy), nevertheless under the Joint Enterprise law, I can be charged with murder alongside my friend. Sounds crazy huh? To date the campaign group Jengba (joint enterprise not guilty by association) has been approached by over 300 people who say they have been wrongfully convicted of murder. Many of those being convicted are poor and many of them are black.
I get why the police when dealing with a gang of youths who have been constantly causing trouble in a neighbourhood, should grab the opportunity to lock as many of them away as possible using this law. I mean if you can’t apprehend them when they’re assaulting the elderly or robbing local businesses, why not apprehend them all for this offence? Some would call that killing two birds with one stone, others would call it lazy policing.
The police love the joint enterprise murder law, because it cuts through the silence and the intimidation that often surrounds such offences. If none of the individuals clustered at the stabbing or shooting come forward, why not arrest them all and find them all guilty? That approach might work with gang members or even drug addicts who burgle someone’s home and murder them in the process, but is it appropriate to charge a woman trapped in an abusive relationship with this type of offence, simply because she was home when her partner committed murder? Is a 300 year old law against fencing duels an appropriate way to deal with a gang of fifteen teenagers, in the midst of which there is only one guilty murderer? Risk takers draw a lot of followers, so is it just to convict ten teenagers of murder, because they sought the company of someone who is a compulsive ‘risk taker’ and then froze as things got out of control?
Last year guidance was issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions on how this law should be applied. Probably because lawyers and relatives, have criticised the way in which bystanders to a stabbing can find themselves serving lengthy jail terms; merely because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Parents and relatives of those so accused have looked on with dismay, as young people almost out of school or college find that their future has been trashed, simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the words of one parent;
“This law is so all encompassing that it scoops up anyone and everyone who can be linked to a murder when it was committed. It can affect you or I, it can affect anybody”