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Research questions ‘disproportionate’ convictions under joint enterprise
26 Jan 2016

<B> <I> Examining the issue: Patrick Williams </b> </i>
Examining the issue: Patrick Williams
There is clear evidence black and minority ethnic (BAME) people are being convicted of offences under joint enterprise because of “racist” practices in the criminal justice system, according to new research.

Joint enterprise is a legal doctrine enabling more than one suspect to be convicted of an offence regardless of which person actually carried it out.

Researchers from the Manchester Metropolitan University have determined that the doctrine is being used to attribute gang membership to BAME people and to disproportionately secure convictions.

Patrick Williams, lead author of the report published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) on Tuesday (January 26), admits that the process is not intended to be discriminatory but says, in practice, young BAME people are disproportionately at the receiving end of prejudice.

“Our research has unearthed a number of simple, yet dangerous, associations which result in the prosecution and conviction of young BAME men through joint enterprise laws,” he said.

Researchers established that, when compared to both the size of the BAME populations within three gang affected cities (London, Nottingham and Manchester) and the numbers of white British people flagged as involved with gangs, BAME people are overwhelmingly identified.

In Manchester 89 per cent of gang members were recorded as BAME yet according to official data they only commit 23 per cent of all youth violence.

In London the figure is 80 per cent and 50 per cent. Figures for the number of BAME people convicted of youth violence offences in Nottingham were not included in the report.

The study concluded that the ambiguous nature of gang definitions and the over punishment of those supposedly involved offers a “troubling insight” into the criminalisation of young BAME men.

“The perpetration of violence is not aligned to race or ethnicity in ways that are imagined by the current strategies deployed to identify and prosecute violent individuals,” it said.

The researchers claim that the doctrine of joint enterprise makes it possible to be convicted without any proof of intent to commit the crime or of actual gang membership.

In 2014, a report by the House of Commons Justice Committee on joint enterprise found a “real danger” that a conviction could be justified on the basis it delivers a wider social message, rather than to ensure people are found guilty of offences.

A survey of nearly 250 prisoners convicted under joint enterprise, released alongside the Manchester Metropolitan University report, determined more than three-quarters of BAME inmates said they were accused of being members of a gang, compared to only 39 per cent of white prisoners.

The report was critical that many people listed by police as gang members have no convictions and pose minimal risk. The lists are dominated by BAME people as a result of racial stereotyping, it said.

“The analysis of police information challenges the use of racist stereotypes – suggesting that young black men are not responsible for the majority of serious violence,” Mr Williams added.

Will McMahon, CCJS deputy director, said there has been little evidence of government action since the Justice Committee raised the issue.

“Serious questions have to be asked about the processes that lead to so many young black men being convicted under joint enterprise powers,” he said.

‘We need a commitment from the Government to publish reliable data on joint enterprise prosecutions, convictions and appeals. An urgent review of the current use of powers is also needed.”

On Tuesday (January 26) the Justice Committee will hear evidence on joint enterprise.

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