Joint enterprise

Q: I read about this case in the news. It was a pub fight between two groups of football supporters (red and blue). One of the blue lads was glassed and suffered really serious injuries. All of the lads from the red side were charged with the glassing. Why, when only one of them glassed him?

A: The reason is a principle called joint enterprise, sometimes called joint responsibility.

Where two or more people act together to commit a criminal offence, each is responsible and each is guilty.

In carrying out a criminal offence, different people may play different roles. Each is guilty provided he shared the intention to commit the offence and did something to bring it about.

There does not have to be a formal agreement to commit the crime. The agreement can arise on the spur of the moment.

A good example is a burglary. Consider the situation where three men agree to commit a burglary, the first drives the men to the property, the second acts as a lookout and the third physically enters the property and takes the goods. Each is guilty because they have acted together as they share an intention to commit the offence, and each has acted to bring about the result – the property is burgled.

It would unfair if only the third man (who entered the property) were charged with burglary.

Turning to your example, it may be that the CPS took the view that the ‘red’ group were acting with a common intention to commit the offence on the victim. It would not be necessary that the ‘red’ group intended or agreed that the victim would be glassed, merely that he was to suffer injuries of the type he did in fact receive.

Many feel that joint enterprise is grossly unfair. It is used particularly viciously in gang violence cases. I heard of a recent example where a group of three lads were charged with manslaughter. Two of the lads had kicked the victim, who later died of his injuries. The third was at least 15 feet away when the kicks were delivered. The prosecution said as the third man was making his way towards the victim and the two men who were kicking him, he shared the intention and was lending his support. They said this was sufficient to satisfy the ‘did something to being the offence about’ requirement. He was not convicted of manslaughter. But it doesn’t seem right, does it?

2 thoughts on “Joint enterprise

  1. Andrew

    This doctrine was what put two of the men who attacked Stephen Laurence – neither of whom wielded the knife – behind bars. In any other context the Michael Mansfields of this world would regard it as reactionary and they would be right.

  2. Dan Bunting

    I completely agree Andrew. I have major problems with the way that joint enterprise is used and abused (often abused). It is hard to work out how to replace it though. I was thinking about reintroducing the ‘felony murder rule’ as a separate offence with a lower penalty.

    The major problems seem to occur with murder trials for obvious reasons …


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