The number of raids carried out by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has halved in the last year according to information taken from a Freedom of Information request by a city law firm. The SFO conducted 13 raids as part of its investigations in 2014/2015 compared to 26 such raids in 2013/2014. This fall does not necessarily mean that white collar crime rates are falling, but that the SFO may have limited resources to fully investigate cases of wrongdoing by both businesses and individuals. In addition, the SFO’s 2014-2015 Annual Report cites a proposed reduction in spending from £69.1 million to £45.1 million in 2015-2016, again highlighting a stretch on resources and the real possibility that cases worthy of prosecution will not be investigated.
So what are the options for those seeking recompense or justice if traditional prosecuting authorities such as the SFO have insufficient resources to investigate and bring a prosecution? Recent economic entrenchment has resulted in a growing trend for individuals and companies to bring private prosecutions. Only last year did Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas comment that recent cuts to state funding would lead to an increase in the number of such private prosecutions. The historic right of a private individual or company to bring a private prosecution remains an important safeguard against the failure or inability of a public prosecuting authority to bring proceedings.
Private prosecutions are becoming an increasingly attractive option for a number of other reasons. A private prosecution, with the instruction of solicitors and Counsel, brings with it the resource and ability to prepare and investigate matters more quickly, particularly in fraud cases which could otherwise take years to come to fruition. Increasingly individuals and companies are seeking advice from multidisciplinary teams as to the most appropriate way to proceed, be that through civil remedy or a private criminal prosecution. Further, with the recent award of costs from central funds to Mr Mirchandani in his successful private prosecution (a case which is believed to be the largest prosecution resulting in a conviction ever brought by an individual in the UK), it appears the Courts are recognising the role of private prosecutions in an environment where the State are unable or unwilling to assist.
In an environment where traditional prosecuting authorities are facing increasing financial constraints, private prosecutions can provide an attractive alternative for those who have suffered a loss and assist in holding those guilty of wrongdoing to account where such behaviour may otherwise go unchecked.