How can there be a prosecution without a victim?
There has been much media talk recently about how there can be a prosecution without a victim, or without cooperation from the victim or chief witness.
The starting point is that no prosecution can go ahead unless there is a realistic prospect of conviction. However, the way the prosecution case is formulated remains a matter for the Crown Prosecution to decide.
There are a number of common issues:
1. Witness not co-operating
If a witness will not cooperate, the prosecution can apply for a witness summons to force that witness to court. Almost all witnesses are ‘competent’. This means that they can be called to court to give evidence. If they refuse to attend voluntarily they can be arrested and brought to court. Once in the witness box, the witness may then decide to answer questions. If a witness refuses to answer questions, they may be punished for contempt of court, and this threat is often enough to persuade them to comply. In some instances, a witness cannot be forced to answer questions. This is referred to in law as being ‘not compellable’. We can advise further on the rules that apply to your specific case.
2. Hearsay applications
The prosecution may be able to rely on the witness’s evidence by making an application under the hearsay rules. This procedure is often used if the witness is too frightened to give evidence or cannot be found. The rules here are particularly complex, and all our solicitors are well versed in their proper application.
3. Other evidence
The prosecution may be able to proceed without a victim and their evidence at all. They may rely on other witnesses or sources of evidence. In cases where the police attend an alleged domestic violence incidence, the officers will very often have body worn video cameras. These cameras record what is said and done when they arrive. In law, this is termed real evidence, and may also amount to what is referred to as ‘res gestae‘ evidence. This means that it may well be admissible. So the evidence of a person who makes an accusation in the immediate aftermath of the incident may find that this account is admissible at trial, even without their attendance. Similarly, any admissions recorded at the scene, whether via video or other means, may also be admissible under normal principles. The same may well apply to ‘999’ calls to emergency services.
4. Public interest
There is a wider public interest in pursuing some prosecutions. This is often the case even where the immediate victim of the crime does not wish the matter to progress to court or trial. It is therefore essential that you obtain legal representation as soon as possible. There is a right to free legal advice at the police station, and legal aid may be available if you are later charged and have to appear before a court.
The legal rules outlined above give only a brief flavour of the legal framework, the legislation and case law is voluminous and seldom as clear cut as some might think.
We work hard to ensure that your rights are protected, and the best outcome is secured.
How can we help?
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email email@example.com. Let us help.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.