Private prosecutions are increasingly being used by individuals and commercial entities instead of, or alongside, civil proceedings. However, undertaking a private prosecution is no mean feat.
But when brought properly, for the right reasons and conducted to the highest standards, they can reap results you would not get from any other remedy.
Below is a short summary of private prosecutions including six key things to consider before deciding to commence a private prosecution.
What is a private prosecution?
Although most criminal prosecutions are brought by public authorities, such as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), it is possible for any individual or company to commence a criminal prosecution against anyone that it believes has committed a criminal offence (see Section 6 of the Prosecution of Offences Act (POA) 1985).
In these cases, the person bringing the proceedings effectively steps into the shoes of the public authority and conducts the case from the investigation stage through to the trial.
This is known as a private prosecution.
Why would you bring the prosecution yourself instead of reporting the crime to the authorities to investigate?
In many cases reporting to the authorities is the most appropriate thing to do. However, private prosecutions provide an alternative means to prosecute offences which the public authorities would not have the time, inclination or resources to deal with. This could be due the size, complexity or nature of the matter. Private prosecutions also assist in urgent cases when there is not time to wait for the public authority to act.
By way of example we recently acted for a client who successfully used a private prosecution to obtain convictions for a complex global fraud that the public authorities would have been unlikely to investigate. The relative speed of the prosecution meant that the client was able to put a stop to the defendants' continued production of counterfeit goods and therefore limit the damage to the company.
Getting the right help
Private prosecutions are a powerful tool. They can provide results that you would not be able to achieve using any other remedy. However, they require careful consideration as well as expert advice and assistance. Commenced for the wrong reasons and conducted poorly, they are likely to end in wasted costs and negative outcomes. Having an open conversation with legal experts in this area before deciding to prosecute will help provide a well-rounded picture on your best course of action.
The team at Howard Kennedy has experience of prosecuting and defending private prosecutions for a range of clients and can help advise on whether a private prosecution is the right fit for your matter.