Joint enterprise

When an offence is committed by one of several people but it is not possible to prove which one of them actually carried out the actus reus.

Where two or more people commit the actus reus with the necessary mens rea, for example, if two burglars enter a house with the intention to steal, the law regards each of them as a joint principal.   The law is less satisfactory in the case of 'joint enterprise'.

 

Joint enterprise occurs where an offence is committed by one of several people but it is not possible to prove which one of them actually carried out the actus reus. Joint enterprise requires a person who commits a crime, the principal, and secondary participant(s) who assists the principal in carrying out the crime.

 

The joint enterprise need not be for profit, although this is a common motive. Joint enterprises can therefore include partnerships, joint ventures or business activities where there is an agreed goal or purpose.

 

This area of the common law is problematical and not without its critics. One important point is, that if it cannot be shown that they were acting in concert or for a joint purpose or agreement, then the jury should acquit all the defendants (R v Lane and Lane (1986), R v Aston and Mason (1992)).

 

The concept has given rise to concern in recent years. Problems arise where a person who is to be treated as part of a joint enterprise is found liable for all of the crimes committed by one of the other members of the joint enterprise, and not just those offences where it was contemplated that an offence would be carried out as part of the joint criminal venture. This area of the law is particularly problematical where an unlawful homicide arises.

 

The Law Commission has considered the matter extensively. The Law Commission's recommendations in Participating in Crime (2007)  together with those in its earlier reports Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime (2006)  and Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide (2006) allowed for complete and interlocking statutory provision for complicity. To date however, only the reforms contained in Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime have been enacted.

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