A specialist law firm and animal rights charity may have been engaged in 'systemic fraud' and 'perverting the course of justice', by bringing abusive and unfounded private prosecutions, a judge has said.
The honorary recorder of Manchester, Judge Nicholas Dean QC, this week stayed proceedings against Alex-Kaye Carrigan and Elisha Brown, who were separately charged with unlawfully selling pets, stating that the prosecutions were an abuse of the court’s process.
In a damning ruling, the judge said the prosecutions brought by the charity Animal Protection Services (APS) and Liverpool law firm Parry & Welch, had been brought and pursued 'with no evidential basis' and 'for wholly improper reasons and purposes'. The charity and law firm had used a 'perverse interpretation' of the law to bring charges in cases where 'no one could properly conclude that there were realistic prospects for conviction'.
The decisions to charge Carrigan and Brown, said the judge, 'were profoundly flawed, so flawed that it requires me to consider why the decisions were taken'.
Sitting at Manchester Crown Court, Judge Dean concluded that the prosecutions had been brought to punish the defendants 'regardless' of whether they had committed any offence, and to recover 'grossly exaggerated' fees.
The judge said that the evidence in both cases consisted of 'near identical' two-page witness statements made by an employee of APS, which he said 'must have been copied and pasted from other statements', and short documentary exhibits downloaded from the internet.
Parry & Welch claimed £12,769 costs for the two cases from central funds. Their costs schedule included £502.50 for a two-hour review of one case, and £290 for a one-hour conference between the solicitor and witness. Judge Dean branded the costs schedules 'works of almost pure fiction'.
The court heard that the charity has brought between 80 and 100 private prosecutions this year alleging similar offences, and that many of the cases had been conducted by Parry & Welch. Most had remained in the magistrate’s court where the judge said defendants, some without legal representation, may have pleaded guilty.
Where defendants elected trial in the Crown court, Parry & Welch were instructed to withdraw proceedings.
In the cases of Carrigan and Brown, Judge Dean declined to allow the prosecutions to be withdrawn. He said the withdrawal of proceedings in the Crown court 'provides clear evidence' that the proceedings were brought for 'improper motives'.
The judge said the charity and firm sought to withdraw the prosecutions 'to try to achieve swift recovery of fees' and to 'avoid judicial scrutiny of their decisions and actions'.
He accused APS and Parry & Welch of 'serious misconduct', which he said was an 'affront to the conscience of the criminal justice system'.
The judge referred an earlier ruling in which a judge at Preston Crown Court had stayed a prosecution brought by APS, using a different law firm, due to the 'improper financial motive' for bring the case. 'The concern I have is that APS, sometimes in conjunction with Messrs. Parry and Welch, may have been involved in systematic fraud and in perverting the course of public justice.'
He said individuals may have pleaded guilty to offences as a consequence of being misled by APS and Parry & Welch, or due a lack of scrutiny of their actions.
Issues raised in the cases required 'a full and holistic investigation'. The judge said he would be sending his ruling to the attorney general, Greater Manchester Police, the Charities Commission and to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
James Parry, a partner at Parry & Welch declined to comment.
Jacob Lloyd, director of APS, told the Gazette that the charity 'strongly denies any allegation that it has been involved in a fraud' and is considering an appeal. Lloyd said the charity is also considering a civil claim against Parry & Welch.
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