Which criminal offences can be privately prosecuted?
Subject to certain exceptions, private prosecutions can be brought for a wide range of offences where the CPS has not initiated criminal proceedings. Private individuals have the power to bring a prosecution and punish offenders for many offences. We can act for a private individual who has been the victim of a criminal offence, including the following:
- Manslaughter/murder: the Stephen Lawrence and the Hillsborough disaster cases are examples of private prosecutions being brought for unlawful killing.
- Sexual offences: victims of date rape, non-consensual sexual offences and offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
- Assault: sexual assault; domestic violence; victims of road rage; racially aggravated assault and violent assaults falling under section 39 Criminal Justice Act 1988 or s.47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
- Harassment: victims of stalking or harassment pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (including online harassment/cyberstalking).
- Blackmail: high-profile individuals have sought private prosecutions under section 21 of the Theft Act 1968 after receiving unwarranted demands with menaces in order to attain personal gain.
- Fraud: in circumstances where the CPS or Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have made a decision not to prosecute. Private prosecutions have been brought for money laundering, dishonesty and/or theft; insurance fraud; white-collar crime or defrauding by trading platforms.
- Property disputes: false adverse possession claims, for example making a false statutory declaration which is a criminal offence.
- Perverting the course of justice: including wasting police time in cases involving false allegations of rape/domestic abuse.
Why would a victim of a serious crime or general crime commence a private prosecution?
To get justice for criminal offences committed against victims 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 (such as Project Sapphire) to investigate and prosecute crime effectively. These cuts have created a trend among individuals to fund their own criminal prosecutions against wrongdoers due to a failure of the police to investigate or the CPS’s unwillingness to prosecute.
Private prosecutions are a necessary tool allowing a victim to take control of proceedings and actively pursue a conviction against the wrongdoer.
Many corporate entities have launched private prosecutions having been victim to fraud, 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.
What are the advantages of a 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 victim 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Private Prosecution Service: City of London Specialist Private Prosecution Lawyers
The Private Prosecution Service [“PPS”] is a leading legal services provider that specialises in providing high quality legal advice to individuals who have been the victim of serious or general criminal offences that has not been investigated or prosecuted by the police or CPS. Private prosecutions are our expertise.
Private prosecutions can be a powerful, speedy and clinical means of obtaining justice from a wrongdoer. It is important to have as much evidence to hand for a private prosecution as the traditional law enforcement agencies have powers to gather evidence that are not available to private prosecutors.
Our expert team of prosecutors have detailed knowledge of the Code for Crown Prosecutors Test and are highly experienced at advising on potential strategies and skilled at targeting the evidence needed to prove a conviction in subsequent criminal proceedings.
We are the only law firm to operate from professional legal chambers located in the ancient Middle Temple (Inn of Court), near the Royal Courts of Justice and in the legal heart of Central London. Our team of lawyers, which comprises a mixture of solicitors and barristers, provide a first class and comprehensive legal service to help you get justice.