Why commence a private prosecution?
To get justice for criminal offences committed against them that have not been taken on by the police or CPS. The media have reported that private prosecutions are on the increase due to police and CPS budget cuts which has limited the ability of the enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crime effectively. These cuts have created a trend amongst individuals to fund their own criminal actions due to a failure of the police to investigate or the CPS’s unwillingness to press ahead to trial.
If a certain offence is not the priority of the CPS, then private prosecutions are a necessary tool allowing a victim to take control of proceedings and actively pursue a conviction against the accused.
Some individuals feel that civil proceedings may be prohibitively slow and a private prosecution would offer a speedier resolution. In addition, the civil damages awarded may not adequately compensate for the harm suffered whereas private prosecutions have the availability of tougher penalties which includes unlimited fines and imprisonment.
Many corporate entities have launched private prosecutions to protect their intellectual property, rather than leave their rights to be protected by public law enforcement agencies.
Victims of crimes consider starting a private prosecution for a number of reasons, for example:
- to deter future criminal conduct by the suspect;
- to send a clear message to potential fraudsters that a company that has been defrauded will take strong action;
- as a necessary tool when the public prosecution authorities are unwilling to act;
- potential compensation for the victim.
- to establish a precedent for future conduct;
- to protect society; and
- a private prosecutor can access specialist expertise which many public prosecuting authorities cannot utilise, which can increase the chances of prosecution.
Why consider private prosecution instead of civil litigation?
Private prosecution has the advantage of being the more economic route to seek financial redress and justice. Private prosecution is usually cheaper and faster than commencing civil proceedings.
Can you bring a private prosecution instead of civil litigation?
Yes. Private prosecutions brought in conjunction with civil proceedings can be a useful tool for Claimants. A criminal conviction can be relied upon in related civil litigation, which increases the chances of success in civil proceedings. A private prosecution can be useful in the disclosure stage of civil litigation as it could lead to the earlier disclosure of important documents.
Private prosecutions are a valuable tool which can be used to pressure an opponent to settle on-going civil proceedings. However, although parallel civil litigation is not a bar to a successful private prosecution, caution must be exercised. Criminal proceedings could be stayed as an abuse of process if the Court is under the impression that the private prosecution is solely deployed as leverage to reach a settlement in civil proceedings.
However, although there are advantages to bringing a private prosecution in conjunction with civil litigation, this right is not unlimited. In R (Virgin Media Ltd) v Zinga the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales indicated that as a deterrent to improper private prosecutions, a Court may take steps to limit the costs recoverable by a private prosecutor from state funds. Moreover, there can be delays in securing a hearing date and unlike in civil proceedings, a Court cannot award costs against a defendant for deliberate delay.
What are the advantages of private prosecution?
A private prosecution has advantages over a public prosecution:
- Individuals can bring a prosecution where the prosecuting authorities are unwilling. For example, where the CPS have a lack of resources or specialist expertise (e.g. a lack of specialist fraud officers). This point was noted by Lord Thomas CJ in R v Zinga  EWCA Crim 52:
“At a time when the retrenchment of the state is evident in many areas, including the funding of the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office, it seems inevitable that the number of private prosecutions will increase.”
R v Zinga  EWCA Crim 52 (Lord Thomas CJ)
- A person can exercise greater control over the investigative procedure and subsequent prosecution. For instance, more resources or highly specialist investigators and lawyers can be employed which are not ordinarily provided for in a public prosecution. The private prosecutor can control the investigation rather than rely on the CPS or police.
- They offer a way to overcome issues that have precluded a person from making a civil claim. There are no limitation periods in criminal proceedings, unlike for civil proceedings. In addition, it may be easier to establish jurisdiction in the UK for a criminal matter instead of a civil case.
- Criminal trials can generally be brought faster court than civil proceedings as there are not as many pre-trial hearings.
- Criminal proceedings can be cheaper than the civil route alternative.
- Unlike with civil proceedings, a private prosecutor does not have to provide a security for costs to the defendant. If your case fails and the defendant is not prosecuted, you will generally not have to pay the successful party’s costs.
- Under s.18 Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, you can apply to the court to award costs against the defendant which have been incurred in the whole proceedings.
- In certain cases, a private prosecutor can apply for legal costs and the costs of an investigation from state funds
- A private prosecutor can apply for a Restraint Order, which freezes the defendants’ pre-charge assets.
- If a defendant is found to be guilty, a private prosecutor can apply for a Compensation Order under sections 130-133 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 or a Confiscation Order. Both a Compensation Order and a Confiscation Order can be enforced by a Court. If the defendant refuses to pay, then these Orders can be enforced which may ensure that the defendant gets sent to prison.
- Private prosecutions are a useful tool against economic crimes that have not been prioritised by the police or CPS.
- They act as a robust deterrent due to the sanctions that a Criminal Court can impose: criminal record, custodial sentence, Confiscation Order and can affect an individual’s right to be a director of a company.
Instruct Specialist Private Prosecution Lawyers
We are a specialist City of London law firm made up of Solicitors & Barristers operating from the only law firm based in the Middle Temple Inns of Court adjacent to the Royal Courts of Justice. Our specialist Private Prosecution Solicitors and Barristers deliver expert technical knowledge, the utmost expertise, top state prosecution contacts, strong negotiations skills and respected advice, which can make a pronounced difference in criminal or civil proceedings and subsequent tracing, compensation, confiscation, custodial penalties or enforcement.