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A dragnet sentence? The doctrine of joint enterprise

Researchers: Juliet Lyon, CBE | Dr Jessica Jacobson

By Nuffield Foundation

Project overview

This exploratory study aims to fill the large knowledge gap concerning ‘joint enterprise’ (a doctrine in common law that allows two or more individuals to be charged with the same criminal offence).

Joint enterprise can be considered a critically important tool for the authorities because it permits the prosecution of some of the most serious forms of criminality in which involvement of multiple parties is evident but the specific roles played by the individuals cannot be definitively established.

However, in recent years criminal justice professionals, policy-makers, penal reformers and others have expressed increasing and intense concerns about some of the ways in which the doctrine is applied by the courts. For instance, in some cases people are being sentenced for the most serious offences, and hence to very long prison terms, under joint enterprise where their involvement in the offence has been relatively peripheral.

This study seeks to assess how and to what extent the doctrine of joint enterprise is applied in the prosecution of serious offences, to gather any evidence of inconsistency or disproportionality in its application, and to inform further, more wide-scale research and analysis of these issues.

The study will entail case file analysis; interviews and roundtable discussions with expert informants; and analysis of sentencing transcripts. The research findings will inform the design of future research studies as well as a future tracking system that would record cases brought under the joint enterprise doctrine in order to facilitate further research and analysis.


  • Juliet Lyon, CBE
    Prison Reform Trust
  • Dr Jessica Jacobson
    Birkbeck, University of London

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation
By Nuffield Foundation

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