Reform of the Joint Enterprise law

August 18, 2016 3 min read

By Giorgio Desouza, Beauchamps High School, Alumnus of The Young Lawyer Programme 2015

In February, the Supreme Court announced a significant change to the law on joint enterprise. I researched this report because, as a first-year university Law student, ‘joint enterprise’ was part of my syllabus. The Court, in the case of Jogee , stated ‘joint enterprise had been incorrectly interpreted for the last 30 years’ . Established in Chan Wing-Siu , it allowed convictions for a group of people if they foresaw a crime, given that foresight was equally treated as intent to commit a crime, meaning the defendants would be as guilty as the principal offender(s). The landmark ruling potentially paves the way for hundreds of prisoners, convicted under ‘joint enterprise’, to lodge appeals . With the change in the law, the ‘grey line’ between those who intended and who foresaw a crime has been erased. Foresight may now be treated as evidence of intent but is not equal to intent. Although pre-Jogee prisoners have their convictions open to question, it is unlikely to lead to ‘mass prison releases’ . Lord Neuberger of the Supreme Court said the change “will not render invalid all convictions”. It was to “bring the law back to the principles which had been established before the law took a wrong turn” . Any prisoner-appeal lodged will need to demonstrate a great injustice originally, not that the now-incorrect law was wrong to convict them. A 16-prison study by Dr Crewe of the University of Cambridge found that white prisoners were underrepresented for joint enterprise convictions. Similarly, convictions for black prisoners stood at 37.2%, three times the general black prison population. The implication is black men were targeted by the law. This exposes a sense of racial inequality in the British legal system. As a counter-argument, young black males along with other non-white Britons are more likely to be identified as a gang member than a White British male. Statistics from Manchester Metropolitan University show that 89% of the Manchester police gang database comprises non-white Britons. However, given the exposure of this apparent discriminate targeting non-whites by the joint enterprise law, it is thought the clarification can address the imbalance in conviction rates between white and black defendants and eventually reduce discrimination in the legal system. This change will compel police forces to enact thorough investigations into gang crime. Although recently gang violence has risen, , it is legally and morally unfair to arrest and charge every person in a gang with a crime without strong proof of their involvement. An intent-based test now ensures a high threshold of criminal liability is met before such liability is imposed on defendants. I believe the change in the law of joint enterprise is a “moment of legal history” . I am certain this reform will not mean defendants getting lighter sentences or going unpunished for their crimes. Their trials will be heard in a fairer manner and the strongest proof of intent produced. Any potential miscarriage of justice may be now avoided thanks to the correction of the joint enterprise law.

[1] R v Jogee [2016] UKSC 8

[1] (2016) Joint enterprise law wrongly interpreted for 30 years, Supreme Court rules, Available at:

[1] R v Chan Wing Siu [1985] AC 168 (Privy Council (Hong Kong))

[1] Gregory Walton (2016) 'Hundreds of convicted killers may seek to appeal after 'joint enterprise' law wrongly interpreted for 30 years', Available at:

[1] Joshua Rozenberg (2016) 'Correcting the joint enterprise law won’t lead to mass prison releases', Available at:

[1] R v Jogee [2016] UKSC 8

[1] Dr. Ben Crewe, Dr. Susie Hulley and Ms. Serena Wright (2015) Written Evidence Submitted by Dr. Ben Crewe, Dr. Susie Hulley and Ms. Serena Wright, Cambridge Institute of Criminology

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