I predict a riot- or maybe conspiracy to commit violent disorder
The horrific scenes of widespread disorder riot in the streets of London and other cities was jaw-dropping stuff. For four days lawless youths have roamed the streets with a total disregard for the law. Many criminal offences have been committed- from burglary, robbery and theft through to robbery, arson, and possibly even murder. At the centre of it all are offences relating to public order. The two main charges that are likely to be used are riot and violent disorder.
Riot is an extremely serious offence. It carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Where 12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.
The violence can be directed towards people or property. It is pretty easy to characterise what has been happening as a riot.
The alternative to riot is the serious offence of violent disorder. The number of people required to be together goes down from 12 to 3. The maximum sentence for violent disorder is 5 years in prison.
Where 3 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using or threatening unlawful violence is guilty of violent disorder.
For both the offences, there is no reason not to apply the principles of joint enterprise. If there are others (say look outs or organisers) who themselves are not using or threatening unlawful violence, but are playing a part in the commission of these offences by encouragement or some other act, then as long as the minimum number is established (12 for riot, 3 for violent disorder) and those 12 or 3 people are actually using or theatening violence, then anyone who has joined in with the offence in a more ‘behind the scenes’ role could be prosecuted for these offences.
There is also the option of conspiracy to riot / commit violent disorder.
It seems very likely that there might be more people involved in this terrible disorder behind the scenes. We have heard on the news about the use of Blackberry phones to communicate targets and locations.
The problem with both conspiracy and joint enterprise is that some people can be dragged into an allegation when in fact they are innocent. Often, with conspiracies, there will be evidence relating to telephone communication. Sometimes it will be telephone communication alone that founds a case. This can be extremely useful in catching the guilty, but there is a risk that it captures those who are not involved.
What is absolutely plain is that the violence and disorder must stop. Those who have been involved in these crimes must be brought to justice. When the guilty appear before the Courts they are likely to get lengthy prison sentences. However, special care must be taken when allegations of conspiracy or joint involvement are made, because the net can be cast very wide, and may accuse the innocent.