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Private Prosecutions for businesses

There has been much publicity recently regarding disclosure failings in CPS prosecutions and the impact budget cuts have had on the Police and CPS.  Questions are being raised about the effectiveness of the usual way of bringing criminal matters to court.

An alternate method is the private prosecution. Under Section 6 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, any corporation or individual is entitled bring a criminal case of their own.

An important reason to consider this power is that significant cuts in Police and CPS staffing levels, requiring them to do more for less, has eroded their ability to bring cases properly and successfully.

Figures are closely guarded but in 2012, 400 cases were so mismanaged by the CPS that £1,200,000 was paid in costs. A particular issue is that the Police frequently classify fraud against a business as a "victimless" crime, or a "civil" matter - and refuse to investigate.

Unfortunately, the situation is likely to get worse, and it is fair to question whether businesses should rely solely on public prosecutors where they become victims of crime.

Bringing a private prosecution has advantages over relying on the Police, especially where the option is taken early.

The main benefits are listed below:

  • Speed - Instructing a private team means a case can be investigated and brought before a court faster. This has the benefit of making it easier to recover stolen money.
  • Efficiency - The early instruction of experts can ensure evidence is gathered and disclosure is dealt with professionally and correctly.
  • Control - An expert team acting from the first day of the investigation to the final day at court means a private prosecutor has far more control over the case, and can prioritise commercial interests.
  • Cost - Businesses can recover their costs, even where no conviction is achieved.

Whilst previous Police involvement can hinder a case, and the CPS may be asked to intervene, these issues can be resolved with proper preparation from the start.

Furthermore, private prosecutors can obtain civil orders for the production of documents or to freeze assets, and the Police can be encouraged to co-operate if required.

If you have any questions regarding private prosecutions or if you have any further questions on the contents of this article, please do not hesitate to contact Jeremy Asher, Robert Readfern or Stephen Sadler of our Business Risk and Regulation Department.

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