In 2014, Lord Thomas noted in R v Zinga that “there is an increase in private prosecutions at a time of retrenchment of state activity in many areas where the state had previously provided sufficient funds to enable state bodies to conduct such prosecutions”.
The Private Prosecutors Association(PPA) is of the view (alongside others in the criminal justice system) that, in part, growth in the number of Private Prosecutions reflects an inability of state bodies, as currently resourced, to meet demand. Many crimes which could be prosecuted are not. This, in many cases, leaves victims looking for alternative remedies, of which Private Prosecutions are one.
The rise in Private Prosecutions is as a direct result of Government austerity measures from 2010, although its resources have increased more recently, and also a reduction in law enforcement capabilities compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. Access to justice via the police for certain crimes is now the exception rather than the rule, particularly in relation to fraud. The PPA highlight evidence of the “justice gap” in “the number of reports of financial crime to Action Fraud and the number of cases taken forward forward by the police for investigation and thereafter prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service".
As a consequence of Covid-19 shutting down the country, resources to investigate and prosecute complex fraud cases have been increasingly stretched, pushing them to the back of the long queue of court cases yet to be heard. It is likely to be a long time before new criminal cases are tried in the Courts. The CPS have already indicated that certain serious, but non-urgent, cases are likely to be put on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
Private prosecutors are growing in stature, capacity and responsibility, increasingly operating at levele of standards equal to or above state prosecutions. In the post COVID-19 landscape, Private Prosecutions will not just be more attractive but, in some circumstances, be vital for victims seeking redress within a reasonable or endurable timescale.
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