The phrase ‘private prosecution’ has become more and more common in recent media reports. Everyone has the right to bring a private prosecution; whether they can afford it is another matter, but it begs the question of: what is a private prosecution?
Private prosecutions are brought by individuals or companies, rather than by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or police. It is thought that over the past five years there has been a huge increase in people or companies bringing a private prosecution, with just a few per year five years ago, increasing to between 300 to 500 per year according to recent figures. Some commentators believe this is out of frustration at CPS decisions or an increasing lack of resources and budget cuts experienced by prosecuting authorities.
The most famous example of a private prosecution for individuals relates to the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1996; and most recently, media reports that the lorry driver of the recent Glasgow tragedy, Harry Clarke, may also face private prosecution.
Large corporations such as Virgin Media also utilise this option. Their recent case saw the successful prosecution of three men who sold their set-up boxes without Virgin’s permission, thus allowing people to gain free access to Virgin Media channels.
Private prosecutions can be a quicker way of dealing with matters, but also can be extremely expensive. Legal aid is not available. While a private prosecution can save on time, it is an expensive business that should not be entered into lightly, and only upon a detailed review of the evidence or further investigations made, should they be seriously be considered.