Private Prosecutions – ‘Doing a Boris’
A District Judge sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court last week authorised that a summons be issued against the prominent Conservative member of parliament, Boris Johnson.
The allegations relate to alleged conduct during the Brexit referendum campaign and in particular the £350m per week for the NHS slogan that adorned the side of campaign buses.
Johnson has applied for a judicial review of the decision, but if that is unsuccessful he will have to appear in court to answer these charges and eventually face trial at the crown court.
The unusual aspect of this case is that this is a private prosecution crowdfunded by individuals who support the prosecution.
Is that unusual?
In England and Wales, the vast majority of prosecutions are undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service. Also, there are also a large number of other public bodies that regularly prosecute cases, generally of a specialist nature, before the courts, such as the Environment Agency, Serious Fraud Office, Local authorities, Civil Aviation Authority etc.
There are also very few well-known organisations that regularly privately prosecute cases, most notably the RSPCA in respect to allegations of animal cruelty.
But private individuals prosecuting cases are relatively rare.
Are private prosecutions always allowed?
The Supreme Court has reiterated quite recently that private citizens have a constitutional right to prosecute alleged crimes before the courts.
Some companies and individuals’ resort to private prosecution when they feel that the State has failed to act.
There are many safeguards to prevent vexatious prosecutions, such as:
- Scrutiny before a summons is issued
- Abuse of Process remedies
- The ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to take over a private prosecution
- A new proposed code for private prosecutors drafted by specialist firms who conduct this type of work
- Risk of adverse costs orders if the prosecution is unwarranted
Despite these safeguards, there are still some concerns, and we are particularly alert when a private prosecutor is involved to ensure defendant’s rights, particularly concerning disclosure and fair prosecution practice, are protected. We will not hesitate to seek full costs recovery on behalf of a client if the prosecution ought not to have been brought in the first place.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7388 1658 and let us help. We deal with all manner of criminal offences on a daily basis and have the expertise to get you the best result possible.
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.