City of London Academy students visit Old Bailey

Judge talks to students about the "untold misery" caused by knife crime

An Old Bailey judge warned teenagers to stay away from knives as she told them how gang members caught up in murders risked being jailed for life even if they were not carrying the weapon.

Judge Anuja Dhir QC said courts could use a joint enterprise doctrine to hand down the same sentence to all participants in crimes such as gang knife attacks.

She told London pupils invited to the Old Bailey to learn how courts dealt with knife crime: “Stay away from knives. They really do kill people.

“They cause untold misery to the victims’ families, to the families of the defendants, to the defendants. Everybody loses.”

Judge Dhir was a defence barrister in the Victoria station murder case that ended with 16 gang members being convicted of killing 15-year-old schoolboy Sofyen Belamouadden in 2010.

“I’m afraid our prisons are full of young people who have been convicted of murder, who weren’t the ones who dealt the fatal blow,” she said.

“The law doesn’t require that for a murder conviction. The sentences people are given would tend to mean you spend about 18 years in prison for that kind of offence. You have got someone who is 15 who is looking at spending more years than they have been alive in prison. By the time he comes out, he’s in his mid- to late-thirties. His life has been ruined.”

Updated guidance on the use of joint enterprise, a common law doctrine, was issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions in December 2012.

It allows the accomplice to be prosecuted as if he were the main offender if he assists, encourages or could have foreseen the crime. It was used in 2011 to jail the killers of Stephen Lawrence, but has been criticised by MPs and campaigners for leading to “minor players” being prosecuted for murder.

The students, from City of London Academy Southwark and City of London Academy Islington, were invited to the Old Bailey by its most senior judge, Recorder of London Nicholas Hilliard QC, and the City of London Corporation in response to Evening Standard articles on knife crime in the capital. Four teenagers have died from stabbings this year.

Five of the seven students said they knew friends who had carried knives. “I think knife crime is the norm,” said Ted Lawler. “If you are intending to harm someone, the first thing they will grab is a knife.” Yvette Mwisa said: “It encourages me to tell that person, ‘Stop, this is your life. Once you get caught there is no turning back.’ ”

The students believed more could be done to discourage knife crime and Algen Hamilton said: “I have never seen a poster about stabbing.”