Private criminal prosecutions: A guide

A simple guide to private criminal prosecutions – an alternative option in criminal cases where the police cannot or will not prosecute.

Statue of Lady Justice against a blue sky background

What are private prosecutions?

Criminal prosecutions are typically brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following an investigation and referral by the police, or by a number of other prosecuting authorities including HMRC, the Environment Agency and the HSE. However, they can also be brought by private individuals.

Private criminal prosecutions have become increasingly common as cuts to the police and courts system have left many victims of crime without proper avenues to justice. Many private prosecutions involve financial crimes such as fraud, although in recent years there has been a rise in the number of private prosecutions involving a wide range of offences.

Many people assume that bringing a private criminal prosecution of an individual is akin to suing them. However, unlike civil litigation (suing), criminal prosecution does not usually involve personal financial compensation, and criminal cases are heard in Magistrates’ and Crown courts rather than in civil courts.

In short, private prosecution is a way of achieving justice when the police or CPS lack either the resource or the inclination to prosecute a case themselves.

What is involved in a private prosecution?

In order to bring a private prosecution, there needs to be compelling evidence that can be used to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused has committed a crime. Any type of crime can result in a private prosecution: examples of recent cases with which we have been involved include:

  • The prosecution of business partners who defrauded an associate of approximately £1m.
  • The prosecution of a rogue builder who carried out shoddy work without the proper insurance.
  • The prosecution of a company that ripped off a supplier by obtaining work for which it was unable to pay.
  • The prosecution of an individual for sexual offences.

If a prosecutor agrees to take on your case, all evidence and statements will be gathered and an application made to the court to issue a criminal prosecution summons.

A preliminary hearing will be held, during which the defendant must enter a plea. At this point, depending on the plea, a trial may be fixed, for which your prosecutor and their team will prepare carefully. You will be required to give evidence at trial, along with any witnesses.

How much does private prosecution cost?

Regardless of whether the prosecution is successful, there is a good chance that your costs will be able to be recovered, either from the defendant or through the courts.

Private prosecutions are complex cases which should not be undertaken lightly. However, when sufficient evidence is available, an experienced criminal prosecutor can put together a strong case that stands a good chance of success.

> Find out more about our prosecution services