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  • Writer's pictureThe City Solicitors

How is Private Prosecution used (and abused)?

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Private prosecution (PP) may be of great utility for the victim of a crime as it bypasses the need to interact with an increasingly overwhelmed bureaucratic system. At the same time, in some instances, private prosecution may hinder the rightful resolution of the matter; and could improperly benefit companies or individuals supposedly acting in the public interest. For comparison, Italian Criminal Law is unambiguous on the subject. If no public body with authority to prosecute agrees to continue with the legal proceedings, individuals or companies do not have the authority to continue with legal action, the opposite of the United Kingdom.

Against this decision in Italian law, it’s argued that restricting the possibility of individuals or companies to bring to the attention of the court criminal charges unless they enquire with a public body would not benefit either the judicial department or the public’s interest. At the same time, the possibility of acting privately to ensure that a criminal procedure is created and brought to court cannot be a substitute for seeking prosecution from a public body.

In sum, private prosecution is not exempt from misuse. This has been the case of a famous luxury mall against a Romanian citizen accused of theft for the value of 200£. At the time of the alleged theft, the company exercised its right to hold the defendant and questioned his actions, albeit never alerting the police of the matter in question. Successively, the company decided to proceed with the prosecution privately despite having the possibility to contact the police and possibly resolve the issue in loco rather than through court proceedings.

The decision to move forward with PP raised questions, ultimately resulting in the Crown Prosecution Service intervening in the case. The intervention of the CPS in the proceeding occurred because, upon review, the public interest stage (the second stage of the Full Code Test in the Code for Crown Prosecutor) was not met. As the District Crown Prosecutor stated, the defendant committed an unsophisticated offence, the goods were recovered, and out-of-court disposal should be considered before prosecution.

The legal representative of this luxury mall did not employ the right strategy by moving forward through PP, and their costs were not reimbursed as the reasoning for the reimbursement application and answers were “speculative”, as ruled by the judge.

As also stated by the Evening Standard courts correspondent Tristan Kirk, the aforementioned luxury mall had at least another shoplifting private prosecution, and CPS did take over once again, ultimately claiming the defendant innocent. In this instance, the mall’s legal representative had their legal costs reimbursed.

In sum, there are recurring instances of shoplifting resulting in private prosecutions rather than a swift conclusion through police response. In the case of reimbursement, these kinds of legal actions are far more costly for the judicial body and are a relevant source of income for many legal firms. How PP is misused in the UK judicial system is a matter that must be addressed, and seeking a trustworthy legal representative is the first step to prevent

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