A version of this article was published in the Evening Standard.
Private prosecutions are again in the headlines. Recently a 20 year old university student went to extreme lengths by purchasing specially adapted sunglasses to record the actions of his harasser. Using the evidence gleaned, he then brought a private prosecution which resulted in the defendant pleading guilty and spending a day in jail.
The right to bring a private prosecution is contained in the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, which, with certain caveats, allows an individual or entity to pursue an action in the criminal courts.
Iskander Fernandez, a senior associate at Fladgate LLP, states “there are advantages to pursuing a private prosecution. The most obvious are the ability (within limits) to control proceedings and not having to rely on state prosecutors to pursue lines of enquiry, which they might overlook due to lack of funding or resources. It may also allow for a more focused and more efficient prosecution”.
Private prosecutions have also been successfully brought by large commercial organisations involving complex fraud claims. Examples include Virgin Media’s prosecution in 2011 of fraudsters flooding the market with set-top boxes allowing people unlawful, free access to its channels and Murli Mirchandani’s prosecution of a former business associate who was convicted this year and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Fernandez adds, “there are also pitfalls that must be borne in mind”. The lack of police involvement might be bridged by hiring private investigators. However, they will not be in a position to arrest suspects, apply for search warrants or have access to a defendant’s criminal history.
However, Iskander concludes “with the justice system creaking under ever increasing financial pressure and more cuts being made to the police force, we will continue to see a steady rise in private prosecutions”.
For further information, please contact Sophia Purkis, Partner, Fladgate LLP (firstname.lastname@example.org)