Solicitors are being called upon to discuss how and why young people are convicted under the ‘joint enterprise’ doctrine and the effect that the law is having on practitioners’ work.
Legal professionals, including solicitors, barristers as well as police officers, are being sought to help with a research project being led by the Universities of Cambridge and Kent.
Susie Hulley, a senior research associate at the University of Cambridge, who is co-leading the research, said she wanted to hear from professionals with experience of joint enterprise cases involving young defendants charged with murder or serious violence.
She told the Gazette: ‘We want to understand the experience of a practitioner – how they handled the case, the types of cases they come across, any narratives that tend to happen in court. It’s a relatively unexplored area and we don’t know how many people this has affected.’
The current research, ’friendship, violence and legal consciousness in the context of joint enterprise’, emerged from a study of men and women serving life sentences for murder that Hulley undertook with colleagues in 2014.
Around half of the 333 people who took part in that study said they were convicted under joint enterprise. A disproportionate number of the male prisoners were black or mixed race.
A follow up study by Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016 said that ‘gang discourse’ was being invoked in trials involving black and minority ethnic men. But Hulley explained that research in the UK indicates that ‘gangs’ are fluid and can involve young people who are unaware of the behaviour of those they associate with. She added that establishing a ‘common purpose’ for a serious offence, as is the case with joint enterprise, is complex.
Hulley said she hoped practitioners could give an interpretation of young people’s social relations and the extent to which these influence practice in cases of serious group violence.
The research will also hear from young people, some of whom have been involved in group violence and some who have not, and people jailed for serious violence involving multiple parties when they were younger.
Interviewees will be anonymous and will not be asked to reveal information about previous or existing cases. Interviews will be carried out during November and December this year.