Lawyers advising clients in the controversial area of private prosecutions have published a code that aims to improve the standard of prosecutions and increase judicial understanding of the process. The Private Prosecutors Association (PPA) wants its code to be referred to by judges and used as the benchmark document in prosecutions.
The move follows several controversial failed private prosecutions, including that of Conservative leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson MP. In 2018 a prosecution brought by solicitor and property developer Ashok Patel against two former business partners ended in acquittal.
In a 2015 case, the court found that David Haigh had made a ‘wholly inappropriate’ attempt at a private prosecution of two individuals for human trafficking offences.
Referring to the protocols set out in the code, the PPA’s chair, Peters & Peters partner Hannah Laming, said: ‘Some practitioners in the market have adopted different standards.’ She told the Gazette: ‘The best thing would be some judicial recognition that these are appropriate benchmarks, and that the courts have regard to the code.’
Setting a framework for ‘privacy, surveillance and covert activities’ is key to establishing trust in private prosecutions. Here private prosecutors, the code notes, are ‘ministers of justice’ with all the responsibilities of state agencies, but they lack powers under key legislation, such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. CPS guidance states that failings around evidence retention and surveillance can amount to ‘abuse of process’.
The current interest in private prosecutions, Laming added, does not reflect a lack of faith in state agencies. But public spending cuts are affecting state prosecution decisions. In that light, Laming said: ‘We expressly do not criticise state agencies who have to prioritise the cases they investigate because they have limited resources.’