Liberty intervention in CCRC referral on Human Rights Implications of ‘Gang’ Evidence in Joint Enterprise Cases

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Shahida Begum, of the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Appeals Team, is instructed by Liberty.

Shahida is leading Tim James-Matthews of Matrix Chambers.

The case is covered in The Guardian.

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Liberty have made submissions in support of three Black men who are applying to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), asking for permission to appeal their murder convictions on the grounds of institutional racism by Greater Manchester Police and the criminal justice system.

Durrell Goodall, Reano Walters and Nathanial Williams were convicted as teenagers under the ‘joint enterprise’ doctrine, which allows secondary offenders to be prosecuted as if they were the main offender – leading to bystanders, or people involved in much lesser criminal offences, being convicted of murder or manslaughter.

One teenager, Devonte Cantrill, was found to have committed the fatal stabbing, but eleven defendants were convicted for the killing. At the trials, Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service used a rap video and mobile phone images as ‘evidence’ that the eleven were members of a gang.

In its submissions, Liberty argue that the use of this kind of evidence is disproportionately used against young Black people, and risks breaching defendants’ human rights – in particular, the right to a private and family life, and the right to freedom of expression.

Shahida Begum, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers, who drafted the submissions stated:

"There has been a proliferation of the use of ‘gang evidence’ and drill music, often in joint enterprise cases, but no consideration of the human rights implications and discriminatory impact this evidence can have. This is an opportunity for the CCRC to consider these issues in relation to the Moss Side prosecution but also for wider guidance to be given by the Court of Appeal if the case is referred."

Emmanuelle Andrews, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty, said:

“We are extremely concerned about the impact on freedom of expression of the use of so-called ‘gang’ evidence, and in particular the use of drill music videos and lyrics, in joint enterprise prosecutions such as this one.

“We know young Black men are particularly likely to be targeted by joint enterprise prosecutions, which unfairly sweep people into the criminal justice system – often on the basis of dubious evidence that young people were ‘in a gang.’ We also know that the notion of a ‘gang’ is not only poorly-defined, but is also heavily racialised, and that the policing of ‘gangs’ is used to criminalise young Black men and boys’ friendships.

“The increasing use of drill music videos as evidence of ‘gang’ affiliation is worrying, both because of the disproportionate impact it is likely to have on young Black men and boys, but also because it is likely to have a chilling effect on the freedom of young Black people to make art – particularly in a context where cuts to the arts have already made this kind of expression much harder.

“It’s crucial that we resist the moral panic around ‘gangs’ which is used to justify the harmful policing and punishment of young Black men and boys. We must also push back against the criminalisation of Black culture. Instead, we need to see approaches to tackling violence and harm which tackle the root causes of social issues, and have human rights, social justice and participation at their heart.”

The above content has been reproduced from a Liberty press release.

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