Private prosecution costs: not just for the rich

Private prosecution is often considered to be a luxury reserved only for the very rich. But with cost recovery now a standard feature of these types of cases, anyone can exercise their right to prosecute a criminal case privately – regardless of how wealthy they are.

Stylised image of Boris Johnson, who was in 2019 the subject of a private prosecution over Brexit

Private criminal prosecutions

We tend to think about individuals taking each other to court in terms of civil prosecution, with criminal investigations and prosecutions thought of as being solely the realm of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In fact, everyone has the right to bring a private criminal prosecution against another person, without the involvement of either the police or the CPS.

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.

The myth of cash for justice

Historically, these types of cases have tended to be brought only by extremely wealthy individuals, or have been financed through crowdfunding, as has recently been seen with the prosecution of Boris Johnson. However, the idea that private prosecution can provide justice only for a price is wrong. It is possible, and indeed normal, for full costs to be recovered by the prosecution.

For the vast majority of private prosecutions, costs may be recovered in one of two ways:

  • If the prosecution is successful, the court will usually expect the convicted defendant to pay costs, with the funds collected directly by the courts (or by their enforcement officers), then passed on.
  • If the prosecution is not successful, prosecution costs can be recovered from ‘central funds’, which are public monies held by the courts. Central funds may also be used in cases where a defendant cannot pay the costs (for example if they are going to prison, or have no money).

Choosing the right prosecutor

Of course, not all prosecutors will attempt to recover costs, if the client is willing to pay out of their own pocket. By choosing a prosecutor who understands that cost recovery should be a standard part of private prosecution procedure, it is possible to access the private route to justice without the prohibitive price tag.

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IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: “Boris” by Raymond Wang is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0