Sketch by Isobel Williams, R v Jogee, www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk

Sketches by Isobel Williams, R v Jogee, www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk

Ethnic minorities in the UK are serving long prison sentences as a consequence of racist practices and assumptions being used in the criminal justice, according to a new study out today system which calls for an urgent review of the definition of ‘gang’ in the application of  joint enterprise cases.

The report, published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), investigates the relation between race, gang membership and the much-criticised common law doctrine of joint enterprise – which allows multiple people to be convicted for the crime of one person. The conclusion was that ‘the net effect’ of criminal justice policies designed to ‘disrupt’ and ‘end’ gang activities was the ‘disproportionate punishment’ of young people from BME backgrounds.

Supreme court sketch (R v Jogee), www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals (BAME) are disproportionately recorded on the so-called police ‘gang lists’, despite there being no significant correlation between ‘gang membership’, serious youth violence and ethnicity, the report notes. While 89% of the Manchester Police ‘gang list’ is made up of BAME individuals, only 23% of serious youth violence is perpetrated by BAME people, implying that ‘the gang label is disproportionately attributed to BAME people’.

Commenting the report’s findings, Will McMahon, deputy director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

Prosecutions under joint enterprise all too often seem to involve a dangerous cocktail of innuendo, hearsay and racism. If you have a black skin you are much more likely to be convicted under that law. This report shows that a large number of people may have been given long sentences for offences they did not commit. Regardless of ethnicity, this is an affront to justice. An urgent review is needed.

The report also observes how the gang discourse, which is often successfully used by the prosecution to secure multiple convictions in joint enterprises cases, is more likely cited in cases involving BAME individuals (79% of cases), alongside numerous ‘assumed negative sub-cultural traits’ such as tattoos, music videos, lyrics and genres such as hip-hop or rap. This leads to a disproportionate number of BAME individuals being convicted under joint enterprise law.

More than half (53%) of the prisoners that responded to the survey circulated by Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) self-identify as belonging to a BAME group, even though they only represent 18% of the whole British prison population. The report also observes that BAME joint enterprise convicts are younger, serving longer average sentences (22.3 years as opposed to 19.6 years) and had a larger number of co-defendants (as many as 26) than their white counterparts.

Comments from prisoners to JENGbA about their convictions included: ‘I don’t agree with the prosecution constantly using the word gang because we were not a gang. One was a friend and the other my customer’; and ‘My three [co-defendants] I grew up with and that is what the prosecution described as a gang. We were friends’.

Supreme Court sketch, R V Jogee sketch, www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk

More broadly, the report highlights the dangers and pitfalls of joint enterprise law – often criticised for lacking procedural fairness and having ambiguous moral legitimacy – including the conviction of individuals who were not present at the scene of the offence or did not know the principal offender. Gloria Morrison, Campaign co-ordinator at JENGbA, defines joint enterprise law ‘a common law used against common people and makes no common sense’.

Last October, the Supreme Court was called to look at the current law on joint enterprise in the case of R v Jogee, and in particular at whether ‘probability’ rather than ‘possibility’ of the offence must be established in join enterprise cases. Campaigners are now waiting on judgement.

Acknowledging the difficulties in collecting data for the report, the study recommends the publication of official statistics in relation to age, gender and ethnicity of those convicted under the joint enterprise doctrine. It also advocates for more transparency as to the seemingly arbitrary and racially influenced definition of ‘gang’ and more accountability when it comes to recording individuals on the so-called police ‘gang lists’.

 

Profile photo of Caterina Franchi About Caterina Franchi
Caterina is a Solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP. She specialises in immigration, asylum and human rights law. She volunteers for the Liberty Advice Line.

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2 Comments

  • trevor January 25, 2016 8:42 am

    I am inclined to believe that Racism and innuendo does determine how people from Ethic minorities are dealt with by the Justice system.
    racism and indifference is comparable disease which spreads from one generation to another with no apparent cure.
    should we believe that the Justice system (which consists of imperfect humans prone to be unjust)will be exempt from allowing that to influence their judgment?
    not to say of course that imperfect humans are incapable of being fair…rather it comes down to choice…and if they chose to be fair
    the chances are cries of injustice will reduce with time.

  • Christopher Lennon January 25, 2016 10:10 am

    ” … published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), investigates the relation between race, gang membership and the much-criticised common law doctrine of joint enterprise – which allows multiple people to be convicted for the crime of one person. The conclusion was that ‘the net effect’ of criminal justice policies designed to ‘disrupt’ and ‘end’ gang activities was the ‘disproportionate punishment’ of young people from BME backgrounds.”

    This is not an accurate description of joint enterprise, the legal doctrine through which the accessories, or participants, in a crime to be convicted along with the principal offender. Let us be clear, all of them, not just one, if properly convicted by a jury, are criminals. What is in question is the relationship between sentencing and the degree of their individual involvement.

    I also happen to believe it is wrong to try to play the race card and suggest BME people are being treated unfairly, as compared with white people who become involved in committing gang-related offences, or offences involving two or more participants. My own experience of living in London suggests it is simply a fact BME people are more often involved in gang crime than other ethnicities.

    Gloria Morrison and JENGbA supporters will have to do better than making inaccurate statements and offering trite definitions if they are to influence the development of the Law. There must and will always be a law dealing with accessories in crime. The Law should be blind to race, however inconvenient to some people.

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