Private prosecutions offer an important alternative for obtaining justice in cases where state authorities have declined to investigate or prosecute an alleged crime.

This month a jury at Southwark Crown Court convicted Paul Sultana in relation to his role in a €100m fraud following a private prosecution. In this case, before the private prosecution was commenced, the Crown Prosecution Service had reviewed the case against Sultana and decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

It is important to note that the private prosecutor will undoubtedly have applied the same test but reached a different conclusion, namely that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute, before commencing their private prosecution.  The application of this test is essential to ensure that the private prosecution is not subsequently challenged and discontinued. This case therefore raises questions as to why the CPS determined that the case was not suitable for prosecution. In the wake of the conviction, the CPS has said that it will ‘consider the outcome to see whether any lessons can be learned’.

The Sultana case is a good example of the role that a properly brought private prosecution can play in achieving justice for victims of crime and in protecting the general public; the victim’s primary concern here was the ongoing risk that Sultana posed to others.  

The Private Prosecutors’ Association is drafting a Code for Private Prosecutors to provide a benchmark for practitioners, which we are aiming to publish in November. We are also exploring how public-private partnership can be utilised effectively in this field.

Hannah Laming, chair, Private Prosecutors’ Association; partner, Peters & Peters, London EC4