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Guilty By Association

The doctrine of joint enterprise has been increasingly used to tackle the culture of gang violence in the UK. Following recent high profile cases, and the television drama Common written by Jimmy McGovern this law has been receiving a lot of media attention.

The doctrine of joint enterprise allows those on the periphery of a crime to be convicted of the same charge as those who committed the deed.

This is particularly relevant in murder cases because if convicted of murder, a mandatory life sentence follows. For example if a group of friends agree to go to meet a rival group to have a fight, or sort out an issue, and one of the group unbeknown to the others has a knife, and uses it to fatally injure someone, all of the group could be charged with murder. You would not need to even have been present at the scene of the crime to face a mandatory life sentence.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found growing concern about the application of joint enterprise. They found that between 2005 and 2013 there were 4590 homicide prosecutions with two or more defendants. In many of these cases there will be individuals convicted of murder or manslaughter where they did not administer a single injury to the deceased, and may not even have been present when the injury was sustained. Like the principle offender they will be serving a life sentence.

For the prosecution to establish joint enterprise Murder it must be proved that the defendants were involved in a common criminal enterprise, and that they could have foreseen that one member of the group might kill or inflict serious harm. It would be a defence to establish that the offence which was committed is fundamentally different to what was planned, or that you had withdrawn from the joint enterprise before the offence is committed. This can be a difficult task when the Court have stated that even a knowing look can be enough to show that you are aware of, and a participant in, a common plan.

One of the largest joint enterprise murder prosecutions ever brought in England and Wales was for the murder of 15 year old Sofyen Belamouadden, for which seventeen young people were convicted of various charges. The prosecution relied heavily on the doctrine of joint enterprise, as they did in the case involving the murder of Steven Lawrence.

It has been argued that joint enterprise casts too wide a net around people on the periphery of crimes, and criminalises their behaviour. Former Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips has stated that the law needs reform as it is capable of producing injustice. Others however praise its ability to bring serious offenders to justice, especially when group or gang violence is involved.

Fosters Crime and Defence Team have a wealth of experience in dealing with murder and manslaughter cases, and have successfully defended young people facing charges under the doctrine of joint enterprise. Should you need advise please call Debbie Reynolds or Chris Brown on 01603 723717 or email cbrown@fosters-solicitors.co.uk

For more information on Crime and Defence issues, including frequently asked questions, please follow this link to the Fosters Crime and Defence page.

This article was produced on the 29th July 2014 by our Crime & Business Defence team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.