The public can prosecute MPs

I don’t like to post full articles, but the Daily Mail today published information I’ve been searching for all week. That is, the right of ordinary citizens to bring a prosecution, where the police and CPS do not wish to.

Here it is:

Under ancient common law, an individual has a right to bring a criminal to justice in the courts if the state authorities fail to do so.

Private prosecutions are expensive, difficult to organise and involve producing a high level of proof to persuade a court that an accused can be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

But, occasionally, in cases of public scandal, they are effective in bringing great wrongdoing to light.

And if a private prosecution acquires momentum, then the Crown Prosecution Service may step in to put the legal action on to an official basis.

A private prosecution is brought when members of the public feel let down by the police or the CPS when apparently criminal behaviour is allowed to pass without investigation.

Scotland Yard is showing no inclination to involve its officers at Westminster in pursuit of what looks to the public like blatant instances of fraud.

Fraud carries a maximum sentence of ten years jail and – or – an unlimited fine.

False accounting carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

A private prosecution begins in a magistrates court. It can be brought by anyone who wants to see an act of injustice righted.

They do not need to be the victim. A magistrate is, at the first stage, asked for a summons against the accused to answer the charge.

The court will ask for evidence of the crime. If the prosecution is to proceed, the case will be sent to a Crown Court for a jury trial.

Several eventualities could prevent that happening in the MPs’ expenses case.

One possibility is that Commons authorities could rule that the matter falls within the bounds of Parliamentary privilege and may not be tried in the courts.

Any such ruling would risk stoking up even greater public anger.

Commons authorities would also be asked to make evidence of expenses claims available.

They have already promised to publish basic information in June.

But they may still try to withold vital information that has so far been regarded as private, in particular vital material about addresses used by MPs.

There might also be a move to ask a High Court judge rather than a magistrate to rule on whether a private prosecution attempt can go to a full trial.

Major private prosecutions in recent times include that by the parents of Stephen Lawrence.

They brought a case against youths they believed responsible for the 1993 murder of their 18-year-old son.

The case collapsed when identification evidence was ruled inadmissable, but the campaign attracted support from the public which grew angry over the failures of the police investigation.

After a coroner ruled in 1997 that Stephen was the victim of an unlawful killing, the Daily Mail named five youths as his murderers.


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