The Crown Prosecution Service discontinued more than half of the private prosecutions referred to it in a year, figures seen by the Gazette reveal.
The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 gives the director of public prosecutions the power to take over any private prosecution, to continue or halt them.
A freedom of information request by Peter Csemiczky, a partner at business crime firm Hickman & Rose, found that in 2019 the CPS had 49 private prosecution referrals, of which it took over 32 and discontinued 29. In its response, the CPS added that it 'does not maintain an authoritative central record of the number of private prosecutions taken over' and the figures 'may not capture every case referred' to it.
Csemiczky, who brings and defends against private prosecutions, said: 'While we cannot know what allegations these cases relate to, it is striking that for the year this data covers, the majority of private prosecutions referred to the CPS were taken over and then discontinued.'
He told the Gazette: 'This suggests that very many private prosecutions are currently being brought to court which are either inappropriate, or not properly thought through.'
Abandoned prosecutions are unsatisfactory for everyone, Csemiczky said. While a defendant would welcome the matter’s closure, they will likely have 'endured the significant pain, expense and potential reputational damage of a criminal prosecution that was completely unnecessary'. Meanwhile, 'those who bring a prosecution will be disappointed not to have achieved the result they hoped for'.
The findings come as the government plans to cap the costs that private prosecutors can recover from the public purse, following a report by MPs, which suggested the system was unfair and risked creating a two-tier process in which justice depended on the victim’s ability to pay.
Lawyers have suggested that the cap is unfair and will prevent meritorious prosecutions being brought.