Joint Enterprise – is racialised, outdated and effectively targeting groups of youths in our city. It’s a Victorian law that has re-emerged in England and Wales enabling the conviction by association of multiple individuals for one offence. For A City Seen on Monday 30th March we are showcasing a film highlighting the issues young people and families are facing because of this law.
Here Becky Clarke from MMU explains more about the project and the campaign behind it.
It is now four years since we published ‘Dangerous Associations: Joint Enterprise, Gangs and Racism’, a collaborative project that arose through grassroots campaign group JENGbA opening up the possibility of hearing from 500 prisoners hidden away in the criminal justice system in England and Wales, all convicted under joint enterprise laws.
Our project sought to understand a specific issue – how and why so many of these prisoners (at least half, possibly more) were young black and mixed race boys and men. The film is a thesis on this issue, an examination of the racialising tendencies at the heart of many joint enterprise convictions. Dangerous Associations provides a lens through which we can reflect upon racial injustice evident in criminal justice systems across the world.
As we published Dangerous Associations in January of 2016 optimism was high, the Jogee ruling in the Supreme court was weeks away. The events we held to share the findings were standing room only, whether in the House of Commons or a community centre in Tottenham people were keen to hear and were moved by what the prisoners’ experiences revealed. On the 16th February 2016, the wave of optimism reached its crest, the Supreme Court ruled that ‘the law took a wrong turn’. Many considered this a way through for a re-examination of old cases, hope for those convicted as secondary parties where intent was not proven but assumed on the basis of the possible foresight of another’s actions.
Yet here we are in 2020 and those retrospective cases remain legally unscrutinised, men and women in prisons across the country wondering how they now jump a new hurdle of the test of substantial injustice. Too high for all but one appeal case in the last four years.
More alarmingly, the ruling has not righted any future wrongs. The police, the crown prosecution services and the courts continue to use the common law of joint enterprise to convict individuals by association. Innocent children and young adults prosecuted because of where they live or the colour of their skin. Women convicted for the violent actions of men, who exercise control over them, women who are silenced in the courtroom.
There are many new cases. One of these in Manchester 2017 sparked the local campaign Not Guilty by Association. Eleven young people sentenced to 168 years in prison, had all the hallmarks of the Dangerous Associations research present in the police, CPS and legal strategies. The families have been left trying to make sense of how their loved ones, children and teenagers who had not yet started their lives, now face decades behind bars for offences they did not commit.
JENGbA now support over 1000 inside campaigners, undoubtedly some of this is a sign of their success – they have exposed the hidden and silenced injustice of joint enterprise. Yet the strategy of using the law to correct itself seems futile, optimism has faded but hope for justice remains.
How do we right these wrongs? In this short film, those who have legal, political, academic and personal insight into joint enterprise reflect on what is happening inside the criminal justice system and how we might explain and challenge such injustice.
Book now for this event on Monday 30th March 2020 at 18:10