Monday, 23 November 2009

Joint Enterprise (Another Misguided Policy)

Minutes after finishing the previous post I saw a BBC Panorama show on the subject of "joint enterprise", a piece of UK legislation that covers persons who were present at a crime (especially a murder) and did not leave or attempt to do anything to stop it. Apparently, this is being heavily used in the UK to scoop up gang members that may (or as some cases maybe, may even not) have been present when a crime was committed. Some of them, quite plausibly innocent of anything but fear of being hurt themselves, even if only by their fellow gang members, have been sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 15 years.

What I want to point out here is that my previous post has absolutely nothing to do with this kind of "crime". On this, I take the side of quite a few senior judges and police officers in the UK, in thinking the law is either wrong, or it is being applied in a too heavy handed a fashion. While I can clearly see how it may be politically dangerous to push for more leniency when violent crimes (especially murder) are concerned, I also firmly believe that the current state of affairs is wrong.

How so?

Well, maybe you were lucky enough, or have lead a sheltered enough life not to notice, but there are times in life when standing up to your peers, especially if they're "friends" is much more frightening and the idea debilitating, than an attempt to stop them from doing something stupid. Especially when, and I am not trying to defend indefensible here, quite a few of these crimes, especially murders are not, in fact, what the perpetrators intended in the first place. Gang violence has a bad habit of getting out of hand. A weird look, leads to a ball being thrown in the wrong way, a slap on the face, and so on. Indefensible, but extremely difficult to spot, and to spot, before it really gets out of hand.

So, do not take my previous post as a blanket call for harsh time sentences. Every sentence has to be commensurate to the crime. And standing by, scared stiff, and sacred of your friends, too, while they beat some poor person into (a very dead) pulp, needs to be differentiated from active involvement or enticement. Joint enterprise legislation does have its place and uses, but it seems it's got out of hand so that moral majority, and the victims can have their satisfaction.

Let's either get rid of the bad law, if it really is bad, or let's apply it fairly, and not to appease anyone. After all, remember where the policy of appeasement has led to...