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Criminal Justice

Giving Voice to Women Convicted Under Joint Enterprise

Barrow Cadbury’s Criminal Justice Programme is committed to prioritising the voices of girls and women with direct experience of the criminal justice system. Particularly, those experiences which are rarely examined, contentious and unacknowledged. These voices are often hidden and less frequently listened to by decision-makers.

A new report: Stories of Injustice: The criminalisation of women convicted under joint enterprise laws, prepared jointly by authors from MMU and the national campaign group JENGbA, highlights new and disturbing evidence of the hidden and ongoing injustice of Joint Enterprise in England and Wales. Drawing on personal testimonies the research uncovers over 100 girls and women convicted as secondary parties, most serving long and life sentences for convictions of murder or manslaughter, who have not committed violence.

The research examines the process of criminalisation, revealing there are a number of critical moments, decisions and actions, or omissions that lead to these wrongful convictions. This begins with the early actions of the police and the CPS and their decisions to charge women with serious violent crimes. Significantly, once in a trial as a defendant, the findings then reveal a range of strategies drawn on by the prosecution teams to support the conviction of women regardless of their lack of involvement, lack of violence or presence at the scene.

This involves a dual process, simultaneously obscuring the context and silencing the immediate and longstanding experiences of violence that many women have experienced, yet over highlighting their ‘involvement’ or ‘role’. To construct the women’s role or culpability the prosecution draw on a number of lines of argument:  her presence was encouragement; she should have foreseen what would happen; she intended the violence to occur for X reason; her non-action during and / or after the event indicates a common purpose.

These arguments rely heavily on a number of myths, stereotypes and gendered narratives. These can draw on, echo and feed on and into wider mediated narratives and often draw attention to the ways in which they have failed as girls or women. Importantly, the findings show how defence teams are complicit in silencing by failing to introduce important contextual factors or engage in adequate challenge to these gendered narratives.

The report highlights critical concerns, calls for intervention, and asks us to reimagine justice and what this means for girls and women marginalised and criminalised by the continued injustice of the legal principles underpinning joint enterprise legislation.