The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has commissioned further research in order to understand and tackle disproportionality in its charging decisions. They have also agreed to record data on the age, race, sex and disability of those prosecuted for homicide offences under the doctrine of joint enterprise.
For further reading see this article and the CPS press release and this further article summarising.
In February 2023, the CPS published the results of research into its charging decisions and whether demographic factors led to disproportionate outcomes. The research was conducted by the University of Leeds.
Almost 195,000 cases were examined and the pattern was consistent across England and Wales; those from Black, Brown and Racialised backgrounds are significantly more likely to be charged for a comparable offence than White British suspects. The study found that White British suspects had a ‘charge rate’ of 69.9% whereas suspects of mixed heritage had a ‘charge rate’ of between 77.3% and 81.3%. This contradicts previous findings that CPS charging decisions were largely proportionate. Further research is now being conducted to identify the reasons for the disparity and to identify solutions. An Independent Disproportionality Advisory Group has also been set up to ensure quality assurance and scrutiny of the findings.
Just over a week after the results of the research were published, the CPS also agreed to record data on the age, race, sex and disability of those prosecuted for homicide offences under the doctrine of joint enterprise. They did so following a legal challenge by Liberty, on behalf of Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), who argued that by failing to record this data, the CPS was breaching its duties under the Equality Act 2010 to give due regard to eliminating race discrimination. This agreement comes nearly 11 years after the Parliament’s Justice Select Committee recommended that they should begin recording and monitoring data on joint enterprise prosecutions.
For decades, it has been known that joint enterprise prosecutions disproportionately target young, black children and adults. In 2014, the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge found that 57.4% of young male prisoners serving sentences of 15 years or more for joint enterprise convictions were from Black, Brown and Racialised backgrounds; 37.7% were black. Two years later, further research found that those from Black, Brown and Racialised backgrounds serving sentences for joint enterprise convictions were also significantly younger than their white counterparts and on average, were serving longer sentences.
In 2016, the landmark Jogee judgment was handed down by the Supreme Court. It was hoped that the judgment would lead to a reduction in joint enterprise prosecutions. However, research conducted by the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies in 2022 found that it had no real impact and the number of black people convicted of murder under the doctrine of joint enterprise had, in fact, risen.
Sadly, the Crown Prosecution Service’s research does not tell us anything new. There is an overwhelming body of research that has consistently demonstrated that those from Black, Brown and Racialised backgrounds are overrepresented at every stage of our criminal justice system. It is likely that the results of the pilot study on joint enterprise prosecutions will simply confirm what has been known for years. We await the findings of the further CPS research examining why the disproportionality in its charging decisions exists and what solutions are envisaged.
Written by Sabrina Neves, Solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors