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Academics contribute to extensive investigation into the law of Joint Enterprise

A survey of leading criminal barristers and solicitors revealed many held serious concerns about the doctrine
by Sophie

nullMore than 1,800 people have been prosecuted for homicide using the law of joint enterprise, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Experts have described the law, which allows for more than one person to be charged and convicted of the same crime, as "unclear" and "capable of producing injustice".

Melanie McFadyean, who lectures on City's MA Investigative Journalism, worked on the eight month long investigation with Maeve McClenaghan and Rachel Stevenson from the Bureau. The new data they collected and analysed shows that since 2005 at least 1,800 people and up to 4,590 have been prosecuted for homicide under joint enterprise. This represents at least 17.7% of all homicide prosecutions in this period.

Christopher Hird, Managing Editor of The Bureau, commented: "Our joint enterprise project was in the best traditions of investigative journalism - collecting all the available evidence to get at the truth. The survey of legal opinion, designed and conducted by City University London was one of the main pillars of our work - providing for the first time, a reliable reflection of informed legal opinion."

City University London's Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism surveyed leading criminal barristers and solicitors, on behalf of the Bureau, to find out their opinions on the law of joint enterprise. Katrin Hohl, Henique Carvalho and Zardah Zamen designed the survey and analysed the results. They found that thirty-seven of the forty-two respondents said they were concerned about the doctrine.

The survey also revealed concerns about the mandatory life sentences handed to those involved in murders tried using joint enterprise. One survey respondent noted: "of particular concern is the mandatory life sentence, which restricts the sentencing judge's role in providing appropriate sentences for secondary parties."

Many leading members of the judiciary also expressed serious concerns about the law, especially about its use in murder trials. Francis FitzGibbon QC said joint enterprise "can work like a drift net, catching little fish as well as big ones, and lumping them together. In murder cases, joint enterprise and the mandatory life sentence taken together can result in sentences out of all proportion to the culpability of offenders who were marginally involved."

Emily Thornberry is Shadow Attorney General and MP for Islington South and Finsbury. She explained that the Law Commission had already made recommendations for reform: "It seems absurd that the Government has praised and accepted the Law Commission's recommendations on joint enterprise and yet has done nothing to implement them. Instead ministers have filed the issue on a shelf marked 'too difficult to deal with'. This is very disappointing as it's not an issue that's going to go away."

Justice Minister Damian Green responded to the Bureau's findings, saying: "Joint enterprise law has enabled some of the most serious offenders to be brought to justice. It ensures that if a crime is committed by two or more people, all those involved can potentially be charged and convicted of that offence. Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the courts. We have no plans to change the law in this area".

A CPS spokesperson said: "We know this is a complex area of law that divides opinion but there are a number of cases, including the murder of Stephen Lawrence, that would not have seen anyone convicted for very serious crimes if not for joint enterprise. The CPS does not make the law, it applies it as directed by Parliament and the courts."

The Bureau looked into many homicide cases where joint enterprise was used, charting the stories of those doing life sentences despite being on the periphery of a crime. These case studies and the Bureau's complete findings are presented in a report: Joint Enterprise - an investigation into the legal doctrine of joint enterprise in criminal convictions

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