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THE DOCTRINE OF JOINT ENTERPRISE IN CRIMINAL LAW

Introduction

As a general rule, a person only becomes liable in criminal law for his or her actions or omissions. Liability in this case depends on whether the person indeed played a significant part in the commission of the crime. The court normally tests the mens rea and the actus reus elements of the offence when determining the culpability of the offender. However, in a charge involving the doctrine of joint enterprise, the person may be held guilty of the offence in question for another person’s actions or omissions on the basis of foresight. The question that arises is whether mere association with the offender or presence in the scene of crime is sufficient evidence for a charge under the doctrine to hold water in a court of law. While underscoring this fact, this paper delves into the contentious nature of the doctrine of joint enterprise in criminal law. In doing this, the paper provides a conceptual analysis of the doctrine; the doctrine’s application to capital offences; the common law principles; the evidentiary question of the doctrine; codification; and interaction with other forms of complicity, such as abetting.

The Concept of Joint Enterprise

Joint enterprise is a general concept of criminal law, which has evolved principally through common law.[1] It involves a situation in which two or more offenders are convicted of the same criminal charges regarding the same event, whether each had the same degree of participation in the offence, or one committed the offence with the aid of the other(s).[2] The main parties in this doctrine are the principal and the accessory or secondary party. A principal is a person who commits the substantive element of the offence, that is the actus reus, with the necessary mens rea. An accessory is the second party who aids, encourages or procures the principal to commit the substantive elements of the crime, without necessarily being the principal. However, u…………………………

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