Joint enterprise: a definition

An illustration representing weighing scales, empty on one side, and with three people on the other side to illustrate the legal doctrine of joint enterprise

Joint enterprise is a doctrine of common law dating back several centuries that has been developed by the courts to allow for more than one person to be charged and convicted of the same crime.

If it can be proved that the participants were working together in some way, then they are all guilty of all the crimes committed during the course of their joint enterprise, regardless of the role they played.

Unlike the crime of conspiracy, in which the offence consists of merely agreeing to commit a crime, in joint enterprise all parties are convicted of the actual offence, for example: murder.

Related article: Data – joint enterprise in numbers


The three following scenarios were put forward by the Crown Prosecution Service to demonstrate types of joint enterprise:

1. Where two or more people join in committing a single crime, in circumstances where they are, in effect, all joint principals

E.g. P1 and P2 agree to commit a robbery. Each plays a part in carrying out the conduct element: together they attack and take money off security men making a cash delivery. Both are liable for robbery as joint principals.

2. Where D assists or encourages P to commit a single crime
E.g. P and D commit a burglary. P alone enters as a trespasser

and steals from the premises. D assists or encourages P by driving P to and from the scene and/or acting as a look-out, knowing that P is going to commit burglary. Both are liable for the burglary, P as the principal, D as an accomplice.

3. Where P and D participate together in one crime (crime A) and in the course of it P commits a second crime (crime B) which D had foreseen he might commit

E.g. D and P carry out a burglary (offence A). P acts as principal, entering the premises and stealing. D assists or encourages P by acting as a look-out. However, in the course of the burglary, P kills householder V, with intent to kill or do really serious harm. P is liable for murder of V as a principal. D may also be liable for murder, as a secondary party, if D foresaw when participating in the burglary with P, that P might commit a criminal act (use unlawful force) with intent to kill or do really serious bodily harm.