Private prosecutions for sexual offences are increasingly being brought due to the dearth of CPS resources. Public prosecutors have struggled with the number of sexual allegations and historic child abuse charges being brought coupled with budget and staff cuts.
Why are more private prosecutions being brought for sexual offences?
In 2018 there has been increased media coverage and public interest in sexual offences, especially in light of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. More victims have reported sexual offences to the police and according to the Office of National Statistics, an estimated 510,000 women and 138,000 men experienced sexual assault in 2017. Police officers working in the Sapphire Unit (the Metropolitan Police’s sexual offence unit) have been found in an independent report to be under an “overwhelming burden”.
Can victims of sexual offences bring a private prosecution?
Yes. victims of sexual offences have the statutory power under section 6(1) Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to bring a private prosecution against another member of the public.
Why would the CPS refuse to prosecute a wrongdoer who has committed a sexual offence?
Private prosecutions brought by victims of sexual offences are usually brought when the policed refuse to refer a case to the CPS or when the CPS refuses to prosecute. The CPS applies a two-fold test when deciding whether to prosecute set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors:
- Evidential stage: the CPS must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against the defendant. The CPS consider both the potential defence of the case as well as whether the prosecuting evidence is considered to be reliable, credible and admissible in court.
- Public interest stage: the CPS would consider a number of factors to ascertain whether the prosecution of the sexual offence would be in the public interest including the seriousness of the offence; the level of culpability; the harm caused to the victim; the impact of the offence on the community and whether prosecution is a proportionate response.
If after following these steps, the CPS believes that there is insufficient evidence for a “realistic prospect of conviction” then the public prosecution does not proceed.
What are the next steps for a victim if the CPS refuse to prosecute a sex offender?
If the CPS do not believe that the evidence exists for a “realistic prospect of conviction” then a victim can exercise their right under the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme to seek a review of the CPS decision. A victim also has the right to complain about the police investigation and a compliant can be made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
If no satisfactory response is provided then the individual has the right to bring a private prosecution both before and after the aforementioned steps.
A private prosecutor would be under the same duties as the CPS in the handling of the prosecution, for example, private prosecutors remain under the same duties of disclosure, which means that there is a duty to provide to the defence any evidence which might undermine the prosecutor’s case.
Once a private prosecution has started will the case proceed to trial?
Not necessarily. The head of the CPS (the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)) has the power under section 6(2) Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to take over private prosecution proceedings. The DPP can use these powers to either continue or discontinue prosecutions. The defendant could also make a request to the DPP to take over a case and discontinue it on the grounds that the prosecution has no chance of success and is brought with solely malicious intent.
How can the Private Prosecution Service help you?
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 a sexual offence 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 are experienced at advising on potential strategies and skilled at targeting the evidence needed to prove a sexual offence conviction and are experts in ensuring whatever evidence is available is admissible in any 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.