More charities should consider taking out private prosecutions as a way to achieve their charitable objectives, a lawyer has argued.
Melinka Berridge, a partner at the law firm Kingsley Napley, said charities should not hesitate to take the law into their own hands if they saw a lack of state willingness to pursue their beneficiaries’ interests.
Earlier this month, Jeremy Cooper, the chief executive of the most prolific charitable private prosecutor, the RSPCA, suggested the charity would be less political in future. Many took this to mean it would not be pursuing cases against illegal fox hunting.
But Berridge pointed to the RSPCA as an example of a charity that should carry out prosecutions. It realised, she said, that investigating and prosecuting cases of mistreated animals were not priorities for a financially constrained police force and the Crown Prosecution Service, and therefore took on enforcement cases itself.
"It is appropriate for charities that are unable to access the support of state agencies to see whether taking on private prosecutions is appropriate, especially in this age of austerity," she said.
"It’s a tool of last resort in an enforcement toolkit, but sometimes conduct is serious enough that it justifies criminal enforcement. If they have the right set-up, there’s no reason charities should be hesitant to do so."
Anyone can take out a private criminal prosecution. Although they would have to take on the cost of the trial up front, the Crown Prosecution Service does allow prosecutors to recoup reasonable costs afterwards, regardless of the outcome, if they can prove the case was brought in good faith.
Berridge, who was speaking to Third Sector for a piece in the just-published June edition of the magazine, said there had been a growth in interest from public and corporate bodies in taking on such prosecutions, particularly in the areas of economic crime and fraud.
"I would certainly be very surprised if more charities don’t look to this as another way to represent the interests of those they campaign for," she said.