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A private prosecution is the initiation of criminal proceedings by a private individual or company. While such prosecutions were previously a relatively rare occurrence, this is now no longer the case. With funding restrictions affecting the capabilities of traditional authorities such as the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in pursuing all prosecutions, individuals and corporate entities are increasingly choosing to pursue criminal investigations on a private basis.

At Wilford Smith, we have a very experienced team that can prosecute for individuals, companies, organisations and charities. Our solicitors have all the skills required for this role, with an excellent reputation for advocacy and litigation.

What is a private prosecution?

A private prosecution is a prosecution initiated by a private individual acting independently rather than on behalf of another prosecution authority or the police. The legal basis for such proceedings is Section 6 (1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 – this states that criminal proceedings can be instituted or conducted by any person in England and Wales. Section 17 of the Act states that anyone undertaking a private prosecution can apply to the Court for the payment of expenses incurred during the proceedings. This covers costs accrued during the investigation stage as well as the prosecution itself.

How does a private prosecution work?

Private prosecutions are governed by stringent legal codes comparable to those that govern public prosecutions undertaken by the CPS. If a party is planning to conduct a private prosecution, they must provide information to a Magistrate that explains:

  • The nature of the offence
  • The legislation covering the offence complained of
  • The particulars that constitute the offence

After this information has been submitted, the Magistrate will decide whether to issue a warrant and begin proceedings. In some cases, the private prosecutor may wish to inform the CPS of their intention to initiate a private prosecution and ask the CPS to take this over. In other instances, the judge who is hearing the case may feel it is appropriate to send a report to the CPS. In either case, the CPS can, on becoming aware of the prosecution, decide to take its own action, either continuing or discontinuing the case.

What are the advantages of undertaking a private prosecution?

Private prosecutions provide a useful legal remedy for companies, regulators and individuals to pursue criminal proceedings. There are many scenarios whereby a private prosecution offers advantages over public prosecutions and civil court action. Where the crime in question is particularly technical or complex in nature, public bodies may lack the resources or expertise to understand or investigate the case properly. The ability of public authorities to effectively investigate and pursue a conviction in cases that rely on a large amount of paper or digital evidence, such as complex fraud cases, may be undermined by these factors. As a consequence, progress can be slow and critical pieces of evidence may be missed if public prosecutions or civil court actions are relied upon.

Private prosecution lawyers, London and Sheffield

If you have been the victim of a crime, whether you are an individual or an organisation, and you are considering a private prosecution, you should seek specialist legal advice. Your lawyer should have expertise and experience in respect of the rules that govern such prosecutions and be able to conduct a thorough and exacting analysis of the case.

At Wilford Smith, we specialise in providing clients with a unique service, delivering advice that is exceptionally strategic and results driven. You can be sure that you will always receive legal support that is clear, concise and jargon-free so that you are fully informed throughout.

Contact our private prosecution solicitors in Sheffield 

Our Private Prosecution Solicitors are based in Sheffield and service clients throughout England and Wales. Contact us today on 01709 828 044 to find out how we can help.


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