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Joint Liability

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, under section 8 of the 1861 UK Accessories and Abettors Act,[3] a secondary party can be held criminally responsible as a principal.[4] It is trite law that the conviction of a person stands if the prosecution proves the he is liable for the offence charged. However, according to Jacobson, Kirby and Hunter, the prosecution need not prove that the liability was on a principal or accessory ground. The court can convict the offender if it is satisfied that he was ether the principal or accessory, but is unable to settle on one of these principles.[5]

The doctrine was construed in the case of R v A[6] in three respects. First, according Hughes LJ, joint or common enterprise refers to a situation in which two or more persons join to commit a crime in circumstances which qualify them as joint offenders, as for instance when five robbers confront a person carrying gold.[7] Second, it involves a situation where a person

[1] Jessica Jacobson, Amy Kirby and Gillian Hunter, ‘Joint Enterprise: Righting A Wrong Turn?’ (Report of an exploratory study, Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London 2016) 7 <http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Joint%20Enterprise%20Righting%20a%20Wrong%20Turn.pdf> accessed 31 July 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Amended by the 1977 Criminal Law Act.

[4] Jacobson, Kirby and Hunter, above note 1, iii.

[5] Ibid 8.

[6] [2010] EWCA Crim 1622.

[7] Simon Parsons, ‘Joint Enterprise and Murder’ (2012) Journal of Criminal Law 463 <http://ssudl.solent.ac.uk/2234/1/Joint_enterprise_and_murder_JCL_Dec_2012.pdf> accessed 30 July 2016.

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