Suppose a person commits a financial crime in the UK (say theft, insider dealing, false accounting, fraud, or something similar falling squarely within criminal law). For whatever reason there is no practical purpose to litigating in civil court for restitution or other damages. Also for whatever reason, the police and CPS - being stereotypically overworked - aren't very interested.

That said, the evidence of substantial premeditated fraud (say 5 figures) is close to rock solid, and the victim being legally trained feels the fraudster shouldn't get off scot free, and is therefore motivated towards private prosecution of the illegality, in lieu of police action.

So my question is, what would a person need to do, and what exactly happens thereafter (procedure-wise and in practice), if they decided to bring a private prosecution for the alleged offence?

I'm interested in the complete process,so its easiest to assume they'll do it all themselves (not instructing someone else to do it for them). I'm also assuming no issues with the actual evidence, so that a reasonable judge/jury viewing the evidence would agree it is very strong and pretty much "speaks for itself". (Meaning, if the case were heard, it's the kind of case where the court might comment at some point in their ruling, that they cannot understand why the police did not prosecute and left it to the victim, or something like that)

Within this, there are two side-aspects that - if there are any comments - I'd be interested. Namely, how do courts typically view the request to bring such a case, insofar as such a filing certainly wouldn't be typical or "usual", and to what extent if any is passage of time since the alleged offence relevant to the court (since there's no Limitation Act barrier)?

Note - things that might be relevant in real-world cases but aren't relevant to this question:

  1. I'm not concerned with issues of legal cost, nor of the risk of any financial impact if the case were unsuccessful, although I would be interested to know any circumstances where the victim might end up having to pay money beyond their legal + filing fees for bringing the case. The victim is legally capable or has a lawyer, can afford the case, and feels that the fraud shouldn't be scot free just because no civil recovery is possible.
  2. I'm not asking about quality of evidence - we can assume for this question, that the evidence is very strong, certainly enough for a good prima facie case and more than likely "beyond any reasonable doubt".
  3. I'm not looking for ways that civil damages might be recoverable, I'm assuming simply that they aren't, as a premise of the question.
  4. I'm assuming the fraudster remains within jurisdiction, so papers can be effectively served and procedures followed.

1 Answer 1


It's quite straightforward.

Section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act (1985) preserves the right for private persons to initiate criminal proceedings.

You would have to find a solicitor, and instruct him that you would like to bring criminal proceedings against the defendant.

He would essentially do what the CPS solicitors do, and find a suitable barrister to instruct on the matter. Unlike many other countries, regular barristers do prosecutions. In this case, the barrister wouldn't be instructed by the CPS, but by your solicitor.

You do have to note that the Director of Public Prosecutions reserves the right to take over the case.

  • Thanks, but this doesn't actually address the question as written. It says "this is the statute, instruct a lawyer, they make it happen". The Q is specific and focused on how it works, what are the things that one should expect to happen after a PP is begun, how courts view PPs since they aren't typical, and so on. I'm also much more assuming one does it oneself, not just "instruct a solicitor and it happens", although that wasn't said clearly (sentence now added at start of 4th paragraph to make this clear). Can you elaborate
    – Stilez
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 11:36
  • It's also patently not required per se to instruct a solicitor, much less a barrister, a fortiori in magistrates' court. Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 0:35

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