Senior MPs are calling on the government to review “outdated” murder laws which they claim have led to dozens of wrongful convictions.
Labour’s Lucy Powell and David Lammy and Conservative Bob Neill are among those who want Theresa May to examine the use of Joint Enterprise in murder cases - a common law doctrine which means multiple people can be convicted on an equal basis for the same crime.
The MPs say the system has led to many people - particularly from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds - being sent to prison for something they didn’t do, and continues to be used regularly despite a Supreme Court ruling that the law had “taken a wrong turn” more than 30 years ago.
They have secured a backbench business committee debate, supported by colleagues including Hilary Benn, Robert Courts, Chuka Umunna, Peter Bottomley and Jess Phillips, which will take place in the Commons on Thursday.
Powell, Labour’s former shadow education secretary, said: “Campaigners thought that after the Supreme Court ruling, the criminal justice system would re-set itself on Joint Enterprise and the police, CPS and judges would take note of the Supreme Court ruling and ensure the law took the right, rather than the wrong turn it has done for the last 30 years.
“This clearly isn’t the case, as I know from a recent trial in my own area. It’s time for Parliamentarians to have their say, and represent the views of those concerned about the lack of action in this area.
“It can’t be right that there has been no material change since the Supreme Court ruling. This debate gives Parliament the chance to make its view clear and for ministers to listen and act to ensure the law is clarified and we put an end to these injustices.”
Thousands of people have been prosecuted under Joint Enterprise in the last decade alone. Academics have warned against evidence of its over-use against young BME people, due to an unfair association with gangs and the deliberate use of Joint Enterprise as a deterrent to those in them.
The MPs say people can be wrongly charged and convicted when they have been within close proximity of a crime, have a random connection with the perpetrator or via a text or mistaken phonecall.
Neill, chair of the justice select committee, said: “This issue has been put on the government’s ‘too difficult to do pile’ for far too long.
“All the while the current system remains in place, we continue to run the risk of serious injustices.
“A number of recent cases have shown why it’s so important that we take a fresh look at the law on homicide, as the Law Commission, among others, has been saying for some time.
“I welcome this opportunity for Members of Parliament from across the House to make clear to the government the strength of feeling that exists on this matter.”
As part of his review into the treatment of BME people in the criminal justice system, Tottenham MP Lammy said up to half of those convicted under Joint Enterprise were from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background.
He added: “We will not deal with gangs and organised crime through joint enterprise or focusing on minors. We can only deal with these problems by focusing on the gang leaders and kingpins who are driving violence by trafficking drugs, exploiting young people and arming them to defend gang territory or seek out new drug markets.”