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MPs launch inquiry into fairness of private prosecutions

24 June 2020

A House of Commons scrutiny committee is to ask whether there are enough safeguards in place to prevent miscarriages of justice in private prosecutions. It will focus on cases brought by large organisations against individuals when the organisation is also the alleged victims of the offence. The inquiry is being launched today and has appealed for written evidence.

The Justice Committee has set up the inquiry following a request from the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The Commission has recently referred 47 convictions of employees of the Post Office for appeal to the courts.

The Commission's referrals are being made on the basis of an abuse of process argument concerning issues with the Post Office's Horizon computer system which may have had an impact on the safety of the convictions.

The Committee will not look into the individual cases. It will, rather, look at the potential consequences of an organisation investigating a case, and prosecuting it, while that organisation is also the alleged victim of the offence. The Committee will focus on the effectiveness of existing safeguards and the merits of additional safeguards that could be used to limit the potential for the right to bring private prosecutions by large organisation to cause miscarriages of justice.

Some such safeguards already exist. For example, in some cases, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can take over a private prosecution.

Chair's comments 

The Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, said:

“The Post Office Horizon cases are a clear example of a large organisation acting as investigator and prosecutor of alleged crimes in which they were also the victim. There is a real risk that organisations in such circumstances will be faced with a conflict of interest that could call into question their ability to conduct an objective investigation and prosecution.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission's referral of 47 Horizon cases for appeal demonstrates a real need to re-examine the question of safeguards in this area of criminal justice.

The Justice Committee are undertaking a short inquiry and would like to hear from individuals and organisations that can provide evidence on private prosecutions and whether existing safeguards provide adequate protection against injustice.”

  The inquiry is to be called ‘Private prosecutions: safeguards'. The deadline for written evidence is 1 July, ahead of an oral evidence session which will take place 7 July. Evidence should be submitted, please, here.

Further information

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