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Human rights group Liberty is threatening to sue the government and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the bitterly contested Joint Venture Act, arguing it is discredited and racist in the way authorities are prosecuting it.

Under the law, those present when a person is killed can be convicted of murder despite not having committed serious violence themselves, if they are found to have “encouraged or helped” the author. Liberty acts for the Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association (Jengba) campaign group, which supports approximately 1,400 people in prison who believe they have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes committed by someone else.

Many JV lawsuits label all participants in an incident as a gang, which assigns them a collective motive for attack. There have long been accusations, backed by academic studies and parliamentary inquiries, that the gang label is attached disproportionately and without adequate evidence to young black and ethnic minority men.

The Guardian extensively reported on the 2017 case in which seven black and mixed-race teenagers were convicted of murder and four others of manslaughter, after the fatal stabbing in Moss Side, Manchester, of Abdul Hafidah, 18, by one of them. Greater Manchester Police and the CPS described all of the young men as a gang that “controlled territory”, but presented minimal evidence of criminal gang activity, and most of the defendants had no criminal records.

Neither the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) nor the CPS records the number of joint venture prosecutions, nor the ethnicity or age of the defendants, or whether gang evidence has been advanced in a case. Liberty argues this means authorities are breaching their obligations under the Equality Act because they fail to ‘determine the extent and eliminate any racial discrimination in the use of joint venture laws’ .

In a letter sent to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill last month, Liberty called on the Justice Department and the CPS to immediately begin recording and publishing this data, and to “properly take into account” the obligation to apply the joint venture law also. Liberty has threatened to file a judicial review application against the Justice Department and the CPS if they do not respond positively by Monday, April 4. Both asked for more time to respond.

Lana Adamou, an attorney at Liberty, said: “We all want our communities to be safe and our laws to treat us equally. But the joint venture is heavily used against people from marginalized communities, especially young black men, and unfairly drags people into the criminal justice system.

“It is completely unacceptable that there is still no official recorded data on how the doctrine is used and against whom it is used. By failing to do so, the justice system has recklessly dragged thousands of young black men into the prison system. »

Gloria Morrison, co-founder of Jengba, said the joint venture was applied in a racist way to ‘over-criminalise’ people, and described it as ‘common law, used against ordinary people, which doesn’t makes no sense”.

A CPS spokesperson said: “We have received a letter from Liberty regarding the joint venture lawsuits and will respond in due course.”

A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “While charging decisions are made by independent prosecutors, we are currently reviewing the possibility of collecting data on joint venture cases.”

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