‘Compound Injustice’: The Use of Rap Music Against Children and Young Adults

Compound injustice: A review of cases involving rap music in England and Wales 

The report outlines how rap music is being used as evidence against children and young people in serious criminal prosecutions. Examining 68 cases involving over 250 defendants, the report offers the most comprehensive review of cases where rap music has been used as evidence to date. 

Details 

The key findings are as follows: 

  • Rap music was most commonly used as evidence in group prosecutions. 80% of the cases reviewed involved more than one defendant. 53% of the cases were prosecutions under the principle of joint enterprise, in which the average number of defendants was 4.7. 
  • Children and young people are heavily represented in cases involving rap evidence. At the time of trial, 15% of defendants were children and 67% were under the age of 24 years old. 27% of the cases reviewed involved one or more child defendants. The number was higher in cases prosecuted under the principle of joint enterprise (34%). 88% of the child defendants had been charged with murder. 
  • 84% of defendants were ethnic minority people. 66% of the defendants were Black and a further 12% of defendants were of Black/Mixed ethnicity. 
  • In nearly two-thirds of the cases involving rap evidence, the prosecution had a ‘gang narrative’. The figure rose to 69% in the joint enterprise cases. 
  • 56% of the cases reviewed were based in London. 

The reports calls on the government to implement the Criminal Evidence (Creative and Artistic expression) Bill to restrict the use of creative expression as evidence in criminal trials and reform the law on secondary liability by passing the Joint Enterprise (Significant Contribution) Private Members Bill.  It also calls on the CPS to remove all references to ‘drill music’ from the ‘CPS decision making in gang related offences’ guidance and introduce charging guidance to create tight guardrails on the use of rap evidence in criminal cases. 

Commentary 

Rap & drill music is a form of art and expression in the same way as any other genre of music, however, it is regularly weaponised as evidence in criminal proceedings to create racist gang narratives. The report highlights how lyrics and music videos are not normally used by the prosecution as evidence of intent or as confession evidence but rather, to suggest a ‘violent mindset’ or ‘gang association’. However, the report also makes clear that even when lyrics are used as alleged ‘direct evidence’ of a confession, it can be dangerously misleading. The findings of this study add significant weight to the long-standing concerns that the use of rap music as evidence of ‘bad character’ is systemically racist, disproportionately targeting black children and young adults who have often already been swept up as secondary parties in large joint enterprise prosecutions; another area of law for which there have been repeated calls for reform. 

For guidance in representing children and young people in cases where rap music is being relied on by the prosecution, see the following YJLC toolkit

On 13 June 2024, the YJLC and Art Not Evidence are hosting a panel discussion with leading experts to explore the use of rap and drill music in criminal proceedings: ‘Make some noise: Boys Rap and Gang Narratives in the Youth Justice System. Register for your free ticket here.

 

Written by 

Sabrina Neves,  Solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors