Joint Enterprise

AuthorSam Way
Published date01 October 2015
Date01 October 2015
Subject MatterComment
Joint Enterprise:
The Need for Reform
Sam Way
GDL, City University, UK
All forms of secondary liability require justification as an exception to the rule that one should
not be held criminally liable for the actions of another. Such a justification is particularly difficult
to find for parasitic accessory liability, as distinguished from other forms of joint enterprise.
Although the doctrine has significant practical benefits, there remain problems with the same
kind of liability being imposed on both principal and secondary offenders. This uniform
imposition of liability is the primary problem with the joint enterprise doctrine in its current
form, and the importance of the type of liability imposed means that differences in sentence are
an inadequate way of accounting for the differences in culpability between principal and sec-
ondary offenders.
Joint enterprise, secondary liability, actus reus
Joint Enterprise: The Need For Reform
Imposing criminal liability on secondary parties, who have not taken part in the criminal act, is a major
departure from a fundamental principle of criminal law: that individuals should only be liable for their
own actions. Cases of joint enterprise, in the form of parasitic accessory liability, come into particularly
sharp conflict with this intuitive principle. The mechanism allows for secondary parties to be held liable
as principal offenders based on subjective foresight of a criminal offence which goes beyond the agreed
course of action. Such individuals might be thought particularly remote from the actus reus of the
offence. The question, then, is whether those brought into the scope of the primary offence have suffi-
cient connection to that offence to be liable for it.
The practical benefits of joint enterprise are clear. Yet these practical benefits have been obtained by
developing a doctrine with significantly lower thresholds than those required to be held liable as a prin-
cipal offender, which results in liability on a par with that of the principal. It is a necessary tool, but in its
present state it imposes criminal liability in only a partially satisfactory manner.
Corresponding author:
Sam Way, 15 Wendela Close, Woking, Surrey, GU22 7JU, UK.
The Journal of Criminal Law
2015, Vol. 79(5) 326–329
ªThe Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0022018315606277

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