The government will review funding arrangements and look at how to level the playing field between prosecutors and defendants according to a report published today.
Last year the Commons justice select committee conducted an inquiry into the effectiveness of the safeguards in place to regulate private prosecutions. The committee called on the government to address an ‘inequality of access’ between prosecutors and defendants and said there should be no disparity between the claims that can be made from central funds by prosecutors and defendants.
Responding to the committee’s report today, the government agreed that the present funding arrangements are 'inequitable' and that the costs recoverable from central funds by a private prosecutor should be capped at legal aid rates as they are for acquitted defendants.
The government said it was minded to agree that costs recoverable by a private prosecutor from a convicted defendant should either be capped at legal aid rates or by reference to what the Crown Prosecution Service would have sought, ‘but we wish to consult further on this’. The government also intends to ‘reflect further, and if appropriate consult’ on whether there should be a wider discretion to reduce or withhold payment of costs from central funds in the event of an acquittal.
The government agreed with the committee that the scarcity of information about private prosecutions is unsatisfactory, and a central register would ‘go some way towards putting this right’.
The government is already working on creating a register, which will include the names of the prosecutor and defendant, the alleged offence and whether the summons application was granted. ‘The register will provide useful information about the number of private prosecutions, by whom they are brought, and with what success. Where the person applying for a summons has a history of making unsuccessful applications, it will alert the court to the fact. This would assist the court although the application would still have to be determined on its merits,’ the government said.
Writing in the Gazette, Sir Bob Neill, chair of the committee, said: ‘The government’s response to our report on private prosecutions shows that sensible evidence-based recommendations from cross-party select committees can lead to changes in the law. The next step is for the Committee is to make recommendations on legal aid which repeat the trick and lead to a fairer system in this area as well.’