LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in Britain are being jailed for murders and other violent crimes they did not commit under “deeply flawed” laws that should be scrapped, parliamentarians said on Thursday.
The use of “joint enterprise” laws, which allow for multiple defendants to be prosecuted for the same offence regardless of their exact role, disproportionately affects vulnerable women and brings shame on the British justice system, they said.
A new study showed at least 109 women had been sentenced to long jail terms following joint enterprise convictions, even though none had used a deadly weapon. Many were domestic violence victims standing trial alongside their abusers.
In 90% of cases, the women had not taken part in the violence, and in half of them they were not even present at the scene, researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University said.
Three quarters of the women had been convicted of murder or manslaughter, with almost half serving life sentences of up to 30 years. Six were children when they were charged.
“The report is heart-rending,” lawmaker David Lammy said at a webinar to launch the study. “We’ve got to fix this... It’s a deep injustice.”
The research found half the women were victims of domestic violence at the time of the offence, and in 87% of those cases their abuser was a co-defendant.
“It beggars belief,” lawmaker Lucy Powell said, adding there were “deep, deep flaws” in the system which had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable women.
The media, prosecution teams, and sometimes even the judge, presented female defendants in such cases as feckless mothers, manipulative love rivals, jilted lovers or honey-traps, the study said.
Parents of women convicted under joint enterprise laws wept as they described how their loved-ones had been sentenced to life terms.
Sixteen of the women highlighted in the report had been convicted since a 2016 Supreme Court ruling found the law had “taken a wrong turn” when it comes to joint enterprise.
“The experiences of the 109 women... paint a harrowing picture of injustice which is currently sanctioned by our legal system. These women are wrongfully convicted,” co-author Becky Clarke said in a statement.
“We would argue that charging these women for violent crimes they did not commit is neither in the public interest or delivering justice to victims and communities.”
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said prosecutors had to assess the evidence against each individual and had to prove to a jury beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant was guilty.
“It is right that those who assist or encourage someone to commit a violent crime are also prosecuted and punished,” a CPS spokesman added.
Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org
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