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Preserving the right to private prosecution

Preserving the right to private prosecution


Crucial despite Post Office scandal, lawyers advocate

In the aftermath of the Post Office scandal, criminal law experts from Ellis Jones Solicitors are fervently urging against imposing restrictions on the right to undertake private prosecutions. The legal team, based in London and the south coast, voiced their concerns as the government contemplates a review of the existing system.

The motivation behind this potential review is to prevent a recurrence of the miscarriages of justice exposed in the Horizon IT case. This case saw the Post Office engaging in private prosecutions rather than relying on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or police investigations. The fallout led to false accusations against thousands of postmasters for theft, fraud, and false accounting, based on faulty evidence from accountancy software.

James Constable, Senior Associate Solicitor for Crime at Ellis Jones Solicitors, criticized the abuse of power by the Post Office, emphasizing the need to prevent such entities from acting as investigator, prosecutor, and judge. However, he also staunchly defended the fundamental right of individuals, companies, charities, and other bodies to pursue private prosecutions.

Constable attributed the rise in private prosecutions in recent years to underfunding in the police and CPS. He argued that restricting the right to private prosecution would be detrimental to the criminal justice system, emphasizing the necessity of preserving this avenue.

Ian Daly, Associate Solicitor for Crime, echoed Constable's sentiments, highlighting the flaws in the Post Office's prosecution. He criticized the lack of diligence in disclosing evidence that undermined the case, emphasizing the need for integrity in prosecutions.

Jonathan Morrissey, Consultant Solicitor and Head of Crime, Motoring Matters, and Inquests, warned against removing the right of individuals to prosecute, emphasizing that justice disappears if such rights are curtailed. He urged the government to tread carefully in any moves to restrict private prosecution rights.

Under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, individuals, private companies, and charities can pursue private prosecutions with approval from a magistrates court. Public bodies like local authorities, the RSPCA, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Food Standards Agency also have the right to bring private prosecutions.

The Ellis Jones colleagues highlighted the role of funding in both the Post Office case and the broader trend towards more private prosecutions. They argued that a well-resourced criminal justice system, alongside the right for individuals and organizations to seek private prosecutions, would ensure qualified professionals act in the best interests of justice.

In conclusion, despite the egregious errors in the Post Office scandal, legal experts emphasize the importance of preserving the right to private prosecution. They caution against potentially curtailing this right, underlining its significance in upholding justice for victims.