Dangerous Associations: Joint Enterprise, Gangs and Racism.
An Analysis of the criminalisation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups.
Patrick Williams & Becky Clarke
The Centre for Crime and JusticeStudies and Academic Researchers from Manchester Met University, Becky Clarke and Patricia Williams, presented a report in the House of Commons on Thursday 26th January 2016. The Panel was chaired by Rt. Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, Lord Alan Beith and Rt. Hon Andy Slaughter. JENGbA had been contacted by the Centre For Crime and Justice Committee last year and were involved by sending in a questionnaire to 500 prisoners convicted using joint enterprise and a response of 250 were returned to us. The authors researched this data as well a range of other official data resources.
Two key questions from the study addressed were:
- How is the ‘gangs’ discourse used in the process of prosecution within JE cases?
- To what extent do ‘gang’ discourses influence the process of criminalisation of young Black men?
As with any developments in the campaign, JENGbA families from all over the country turned out in numbers, but CCJS had also registered the event on their website so the Committee room 14 was nearly full, including MPs and members of the Upper House. Becky and Patrick did a concise presentation of the report, and the key findings were handed to attendees including a letter that the Met Police are handing out in London housing estates. This letter from the Borough Commander states that:
'Under a piece of legislation called “Joint Enterprise,” you may be convicted of a crime and sent to prison:
* for just being present when a serious crime is committed,
* or being with those persons who commit a crime and you don’t try to stop it'
The full report can be found HERE. Please read it – the findings are very serious.
JENGbA has known for some years that JE disproportionally targets young BAME people and is institutional racist, so we thoroughly welcomed the report which put our evidence into a coherent argument by analytical academics. The ‘gang’ label is so easily applied in JE prosecutions including family members especially from the Travelling Community and as the study shows Black youth. We have a case where a Judge described 5 Black children (just 13 to 15 years old) as ‘might not have been in a gang’ – they were walking home from school – ‘but you were a gang on the day’.
Andrew Mitchell did an excellent job of Chairing and asked MP’s present in the room to respond to the report’s findings after Becky and Patrick made their presentation. Lord Beith was asked to comment first as he had been the Chair of the previous Justice Select Committee whose 2nd report on the issue demanded ‘urgent reform’. Lord Beith agreed that the report was very troubling and racial discrimination was something that the previous JSC had been concerned about. Also that with each conviction, no matter if the individual had been on the periphery of a crime the fact that a mandatory life sentence must be handed down was an abomination an absolute travesty. He cited the example of cases were individuals were just standing by but had been convicted of murder by JE and given a life sentence as utterly shambolic and a stain on the British justice system.
Andy Slaughter thanked JENGbA for keeping him ‘on his toes’ with the issue and had been following the work of the campaign and congratulated us for keeping it in the forefront thus far. He agreed with Lord Beith that the urgent reform called for by the JSC was now needed as JE prosecutions were not seen as ‘just’ by cross party members and many of his constituents were affected.
And this continued around the room. Steven Pound, who I have written from the day Ken was convicted, again congratulated the strength of JENGbA’s campaign and called for more pressure to be put on Government to do something sooner rather than later. The call for reform was reiterated by Kate Osamor, who said she was a newly appointed MP for Enfield but having grown up in Tottenham knew how her community was affected by JE prosecutions. Baroness Young also said she was going to follow developments closely as her own report on institutionalised racism within the Justice System still needs spotlighting.
When Andrew asked the newly appointed Chair of the Justice Select Committee Robert Neil to comment JENGbA families started looking at each other as if we were on another planet. Five years of campaigning, five years of shouting that our loved ones are not murderers yet are serving mandatory life sentences for murder, and every single person in the room (approx. 130) seemed to agree with us.
Robert Neil said that JE was an outdated law which was ripping families apart; it was corrosive and he vowed to make sure the matter of joint enterprise stays at the forefront. He knew of the case in the Supreme Court R v Jogee, and hoped that would go some way to making progress. He also thanked JENGbA for the relentless campaigning and promised that it was not an issue the JSC would ignore but would ensure the previous work of the JSC and call for ‘urgent reform’ would be something they implemented.
For me and the other JENGbA families attending the meeting it was far beyond anything we anticipated, and we think the tipping point. So thank you MMU Patrick and Becky and all at the CCJS who helped make this meeting happen. For so many cross party MP’s to be in agreement with the aims and objectives of JENGbA’s campaign was truly inspirational, exactly what the campaign needed enforcing; an agreement that we are right.
In the Q & A I asked the panel for advice. The report is so important, it proves everything JENGbA has been arguing; Joint Enterprise is a racist doctrine that is an attack on the working class, but particularly an easy tool to scope innocent Black and Ethnic minority. My question was how can we ensure, when JENGbA wins (because if anything convinced me we would it was this meeting!) that our Inside Campaigners (650 prisoners and rising every day) have their sentences reviewed. If reform comes we do not want to be in the same boat as all those who were given IPP’s and still inside years after abolition. The panel told us to keep on the way we are going, keep the pressure up. Of course we will because none of us will give up on our loved ones, but it is a reassuring notion that those in the corridors of power agree with us.
Lord Herman Ouseley, JENGbA’s patron also attending said, “This has been a long time coming and we must keep the issue of joint enterprise front and centre.” And that means all of us – NJNP!
Gloria Morrison – Campaign Co-Ordinator for JENGbA!