Thursday, 27 September 2012

Law School Students to Assist with Calls for Joint Enterprise Reform

Cardiff University’s Law School is helping a voluntary organisation to provide evidence that may assist in a campaign to reform the doctrine of Joint Enterprise (or “Common Purpose”), which critics claim has led to many wrongful convictions in the UK.

Described as a “lazy law”, there has seemingly been a marked increase in recent years in joint enterprise convictions. Some say this is due to a misguided attempt to address “gang culture” crimes. Prosecutors are charging multiple individuals all with a major offence rather than charging individuals to reflect more accurately their different involvement. In some cases, it is urged, there should be no charges where someone just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association – is a grassroots campaigning organisation set up in 2010, aiming to press for reform of joint enterprise, its indiscriminate application and often unjust consequences.

JENGbA gave evidence to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee in 2011, and has pressed for the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue guidelines for Prosecutors on joint enterprise charging. These long overdue Draft guidelines have just been issued for consultation.
The only statistics available on the extent of joint enterprise convictions in the UK have been collected by JENGbA. So Cardiff Law School and JENGbA have devised and sent a questionnaire to over 320 prisoners on JENGbA’s database. Law students at Cardiff will work under academic staff supervision, aiming to identify the range of situations where joint enterprise occurs and to look at the kind of evidence that is used in joint enterprise cases. This information will be used to inform JENGbA’s calls for reform.

Dr Dennis Eady, who founded South Wales Liberty some twenty years ago and is jointly heading up the project at Cardiff, says “This research project data will come from the perspective of convicted people who have been maintaining innocence for many years. It is a pro bono rather than a fully-funded formal research project. But we hope that it will provide a platform for serious discussion and further research”.
Gloria Morrison, campaign director for JENGbA said “.. at a Howard League for Penal Reform Conference ...I saw first-hand how important it is to have data and statistics to support campaigning work. At the Justice Select Committee neither Keir Starmer (Director of Public Prosecutions) nor Crispin Blunt (Ministry of Justice) had any statistics on joint enterprise convictions and they are now saying it is too costly to provide them. JENGbA must provide data ourselves. Our own research will be a key tool in convincing MPs and campaigners for justice of the reality of the problem. .. I genuinely believe that findings from this questionnaire are going to be the biggest asset to the campaign so far”.

Julie Price, Director of Innovation and Engagement at Cardiff Law School, said “Cardiff Law School is happy to play a part in raising awareness about joint enterprise, utilising our students’ enthusiasm to engage with the law in action. This is the latest in our series of pro bono partnership projects in which we engage with local and national charities and voluntary organisations to assist good causes”.

If you know someone who has been convicted under “joint enterprise” in England or Wales, please email to request a questionnaire, to be included in the project.

For more information about this research project, please see JENGbA’s Newsletter Issue number 17.

This article appeared on the website of the Cardiff Law School and the Wrongful Convictions Blog