UK ‘guilt by association’ law is aimed at the working class

By Caroline Bellamy
February 19, 2018

MANCHESTER, England — Fighters against frame-up “guilt by association” convictions here have picked up and broadened their campaign.

In recent decades the capitalist rulers have used the 300-year-old joint enterprise law to railroad thousands of working people to prison for life. It’s part of efforts to paint layers of workers as a dangerous “underclass,” in thrall to criminal gangs.

In 2016 the Supreme Court ruled the law had been misinterpreted for the previous 30 years, raising hopes that convictions would be overturned and that cops and prosecutors would stop using it to target people. But two years later, joint enterprise charges continue to be used and those convicted remain in jail.

“They do it for ease,” Janet Cunliffe, a leader of Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association, told the Militant. Her son Jordan is in prison for life after being convicted of joint enterprise at the age of 15. “They don’t need full proof for each person. And you can be convicted on such tenuous evidence that it makes people scared. It’s an attack on the presumption of innocence.”

The joint enterprise law is too useful a weapon against the working class for the capitalist rulers to let go of it easily. Touted as a way of securing easier convictions against criminal gangs — a real problem in some areas — the law allows prosecutors to charge individuals based on who they associate with, not what they did.

In fact, the rulers care little about the consequences of gang warfare on working people. Their laws, cops and courts exist to protect their class interests and defend their rule, not to aid workers in preventing anti-social behavior.

Like conspiracy laws, joint enterprise gives the rulers a tool they will use to intimidate and go after workers when they start to fight back against the impact of the worldwide capitalist crisis. Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association was formed in 2010 by prisoners framed up under the law and their families. They stepped up the campaign to get the convictions overturned last November when it became clear that the 2016 ruling hadn’t changed anything.

“I don’t want to be doing this for another 10 years,” Cunliffe said, “and I don’t want the Moss Side ladies to either.” She was referring to relatives and friends of 10 young men from Moss Side in Manchester who were framed up for the murder of Abdul Hafidah and sentenced for up to 23 years after the Supreme Court ruling.

In his sentencing remarks the judge admitted that only one of the group of 11 that had chased Hafidah had killed him, but the all-Caucasian juries convicted six of the others of murder as well. The four other youth were convicted of manslaughter. All the defendants are black.

Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association members reached out to the families. “I’m not saying they shouldn’t be punished if they’ve done something, but they are not murderers,” said Joanne Collier, cousin of one of the 10.

“We’re doing all we can to get the word out,” said Jade Ramsey, the girlfriend of one of the other convicted youth. She and other Moss Side relatives have joined the group’s London and Manchester demonstrations. They’ve spoken to Members of Parliament at the House of Commons, leafleted at other social protests and talked to the Unison trade union’s Black Members conference.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that up to 4,600 people were prosecuted for murder under the joint enterprise law between 2005 and 2013. There are no official figures.

The fight by families of those convicted is expanding. “Fighting with us has made the Moss Side families not feel shame,” Cunliffe said. “I felt I couldn’t go out without people thinking ‘you’re the mother of a murderer.’”