In June 2020, the House of Commons convened a special parliamentary committee to review the safeguards underpinning private prosecutions in the UK. As an increasingly popular alternative to state-led prosecutions, policymakers are anxious to ensure current safety measures are suitably robust.
Being a victim of crime can be a shocking, painful and often confusing time. Notwithstanding the often substantial financial implications of being a victim of an offence, this often feels deeply personal, and the natural response is to seek justice against those who have wronged you. We are seeing a substantial increase in private prosecutions, but many victims would still like the police and state to prosecute on their behalf.
Covid-19 has created a unique situation in the criminal justice system. Police resources are stretched, courts closed or limited in their ability to conduct criminal trials, and obtaining evidence from witnesses in person is difficult, if not impossible. However, crime, particularly fraud, still continues unabated, and the need to conduct a quick and efficient investigation is more important than ever.
Most criminal cases are investigated by the police and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In a private prosecution, it is often the case that neither body will be involved. That said, careful consideration must still be given to the CPS, and procedures carefully adhered to, when starting a private prosecution.
Any individual or corporate entity in England and Wales is entitled to bring a private prosecution against a third party.
Any UK citizen or organisation has the right to bring a private prosecution against another party if they’ve been the victim of crime. It has been a part of our constitution since the 19th century, enshrined in British law as part of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.
The UK has experienced a sharp rise in the popularity of private prosecutions over the last few years. Statistics show that, since 2015, an increasing number of individuals and corporate entities have relied on independent investigators and specialist law firms, rather than the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), when seeking legal redress.