CRIMINAL JUSTICE CAMPAIGN GROUP JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) and Liberty have warned politicians that proposals in the Policing Bill risk entrenching failed and unjust ‘joint enterprise’ criminal justice protocols by stealth.

In a letter sent on 6 January 2022, the two organisations warn that the worst and most discredited injustices of joint enterprise will be replicated under the Bill’s Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), and urged MPs and peers to oppose them.

Joint Enterprise is a legal doctrine under which people can be convicted of violent crimes even if they did not commit the violent acts. In 2016, the Supreme Court reconsidered the joint enterprise doctrine, and found that the justice system had “taken a wrong turn”.

Joint enterprise has led to bystanders being convicted of the most serious crimes. Research has found that 37 per cent of people serving prison sentences due to Joint Enterprise are Black – compared to just 3.3 per cent of the population as a whole – increasing concerns that the Policing Bill will exacerbate the racism in the criminal justice system faced particularly by Black men.

Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), created under the Policing Bill, are a new civil order that can be given to an individual, including if they knew, or ought to have known, that someone else had a knife or would use a knife. The police will be given the power to stop and search people who have an SVRO without suspicion at any time in a public place. Members of the House of Lords are due to vote on the new powers on 10 January.

Jan Cunliffe, campaigner at JENGbA said: “The Supreme Court acknowledged that Joint Enterprise was wrong in 2016. This Government still hasn’t done anything to rectify those wrongful convictions. To push through legislation, that will create further damage to families and communities all over the country proves they have no appetite for strengthening  our criminal justice system, but rather a desire to destroy any remaining semblance of justice, fairness or equality.”

Jun Pang, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “We all want our communities to be safe, and for our laws to treat us equally.

“Joint Enterprise is widely recognised as an unjust way of dragging people into the criminal justice system, and is used overwhelmingly against people from poor and minoritised communities, especially Black men and children. The Supreme Court has shown how joint enterprise has been misused. Serious Violence Reduction Orders will entrench this injustice and extend the surveillance, punishment, and criminalisation of already over-policed communities.

“Former police leaders, as well as community and social workers and grassroots campaigners, have all warned that new and increased stop and search powers and Serious Violence Reduction Orders will put young people at risk. The Government must scrap the Bill, roll back police powers and listen to the meaningful discussions about alternative ways to keep communities safe.”

JENGbA is a grassroots campaign group that supports approximately 1400 prisoners (mainly those serving life sentences) all of whom have been convicted under the joint enterprise doctrine, and their families. They warn that as SVROs can be imposed on anyone who “ought to have known” that an offence involving a knife would occur, this effectively will expand joint enterprise, and particularly re-create a form which was repealed in 2016 after the Supreme Court ruled that its use had “taken a wrong turn”.

In the letter, they echo concerns raised by civil society organisations, the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector, frontline youth and social workers, and even former senior police, that SVROs will expand suspicionless stop and search in ways that are counterproductive to tackling serious violence.

Out of 109 cases of joint enterprise involving women and girls, 90 per cent had engaged in no violence at all, and in half of the cases they were not even present at the scene. SVROs are likely to have a disproportionate impact on young women experiencing criminal exploitation and domestic abuse, especially Black and minoritised survivors and victims, JENGbA says.

SVROs will “entrench injustice, with devastating effects for individuals, their families and loved ones, and entire communities, especially those who already bear the brunt of state violence”, the campaigners say.

* Read the research on Joint Enterprise and BAME individuals here.

* More information on JENGbA here.

* Source: Liberty