The concept of “joint enterprise” has been in the news again recently, this time because in December 2014 the Justice Committee (which examines the expenditure, administration and policy of the UK’s Ministry of Justice and its associated public bodies) announced that, in its view, the Law Commission should review the common law doctrine of joint enterprise in murder cases as a matter of urgency. (The reasoning is that joint enterprise is leading to overcharging. Under the doctrine of joint enterprise – or common purpose – a person may be found guilty for another person’s crime if he is shown to knowingly assist or encourage the crime and agree to act together with the primary offender for a common purpose. So the driver of a getaway vehicle can be charged with robbery under joint enterprise even if he did not even enter the victim premises.)
Joint enterprise can be applied to any crime, including the money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act. And indeed, there is case law linking the two: in the case of Lambert and Walding, the two men were found guilty of producing cannabis and laundering the proceeds. The judge found that it was a joint enterprise between the pair and that they stood to benefit jointly by £107,860 in total. He then made confiscation orders against each of the men individually in the sum of £107,860. The men appealed, and lost: it was held that it is a legitimate and proportionate statutory aim that the entire realisable assets of a person who embarks on a joint enterprise drug dealing venture should be put at risk, up to the sum of the joint benefit obtained.
I’m no lawyer, and I may be barking up entirely the wrong tree (in which case, I hope a lawyerly reader will put us right), but it has made me wonder how joint enterprise could be applied to section 328 of PoCA – the concealing offence: “A person commits an offence if he enters into or becomes concerned in an arrangement which he knows or suspects facilitates (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person”. Let’s say that we have an accountancy firm with four partners. One of them colludes with a criminal and enables that criminal to launder a million pounds through the firm’s client account. The other three partners are unable to show- through poor record-keeping and/or a general reluctance to engage with the AML requirements – that they were unaware of what their colleague was up to. Given their senior status and professional longstanding as a quartet, the CPS does not accept that they really didn’t know what was going on, and takes the view that they tacitly approved of the laundering. Could they all four be charged with arrangements, under joint enterprise? And, if convicted, could they all become individually liable for the million pounds?