JENGbA relaunch: ‘It’s drugs and organised crime we need to go after – not locking up kids’
When I was told that they were expecting a ‘good turnout’ at the JENGbA relaunch event I was admittedly a touch sceptical. After all, it has now been almost two years since the Supreme Court supposedly settled the law on joint enterprise in the Jogee case. What could a campaign group focussed mostly on reforming the law on joint enterprise law have left to contribute? The answer, as quickly became apparent, is plenty.
JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) was formed in 2010. A grassroots campaign, it has worked tirelessly to confront injustice: mostly (but not exclusively) in the area of joint enterprise law. It came to particular prominence with its intervention in the Jogee case, and now commands widespread respect and support including from notable parliamentarians, lawyers and other like-minded campaign groups.
The heart and soul of JENGbA are the families who give their time to campaign for their loved ones and for what they believe in. They were out in force, displaying their familiar red colours. Room 10 at the House of Commons can accommodate 150 people, but standing was not allowed so that some could only join the meeting in the worst of circumstances: when some family members became upset and vacated their seats.
There were a number of excellent, impassioned speakers from the legal and academic communities (and I said something too). There were appearances from senior and supportive parliamentarians such as the shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer MP, the chair of the Justice Select Committee Bob Neill MP, ‘plebgate’ victim Andrew Mitchell MP, as well as Lucy Powell MP who is now a prominent supporter of the JENGbA campaign.
A very welcome turn came from David Lammy MP whose recent review of the treatment of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system resonates strongly in the context of joint enterprise law. He reminded the meeting of a most alarming statistic from his review: that BAME women are 220% more likely to be sent to prison than their white counterparts, with the statistics for BAME men almost as miserable.
David Lammy also touched upon a subject which is at the heart of the JENGbA reboot: the incarceration of children. In a deft analogy he likened the prevailing situation in the UK to the US series The Wire: in which groups of children did the bidding of older, more savvy villains and were sooner or later locked up. ‘It’s drugs and organised crime we need to go after,’ he said, ‘not locking up swathes of young people.’
This was shortly followed by a grimly shocking statistic from the impassioned Dr David Scott: that 318 children have died in state custody since 1990. Add in the numbers of children sentenced to life imprisonment, and you have what Dr Scott called ‘one of the biggest scandals of our times’. He made a heartfelt plea for urgent action, echoed by David Lammy who said: ‘I’m guessing most of you are here because you want to see action.’ This was met, unsurprisingly, with frantic nods of agreement.
The meeting ended with words from JENGbA stalwart Jan Cunliffe, who has now been campaigning for 10 years and said: ‘If I have to do another 10 that’s fine.’ This neatly summed up the JENGbA spirit. These are campaigners who are not going away, and who have a new lease of life: fired up by the lack of progress post-Jogee and with the organisational capacity to take its campaigning into other areas such as the reform of homicide laws, mandatory life sentences, child imprisonment, and the Criminal Appeals Act. On today’s showing JENGbA will surely continue to make a real difference.
This article appeared on November 15, 2017
Matthew Stanbury is a barrister at Garden Court North Chambers. He practices in human rights, public law, prison law and crime.