Sir, Edward Nugee, QC, claims in his letter (Jan 8) that “it is a fundamental right of a citizen of this country to institute a private prosecution of a criminal offence”. To support his argument, he says that “the RSPCA frequently institutes private prosecutions”.
The example he gives is a weak one. The RSPCA’s private prosecutions, and its prosecution of children and the vulnerable in particular, have long been a vexed issue. The charity prosecutes many hundreds of people, including about 60 children, a year. These people do not benefit from statutory safeguards that protect the vulnerable and children in CPS cases.
Last November, at a lecture delivered in Middle Temple Hall, Bernard Richmond, QC, proposed that it was always wrong for children to be privately prosecuted. Of the hundreds of advocates present, not one disagreed with him. Last September, the BBC radio programme File on 4 focused on RSPCA private prosecutions and, in particular, its prosecution of vulnerable people and children.
Lord Bingham, in Jones v Whalley \ UKHL 41 held that “it is hard to regard \ as an important constitutional safeguard when \ are all but unknown in Scotland.”
It is hard to disagree with Lord Bingham on this issue. I have defended hundreds of farmers, huntsmen and kennels in non-CPS prosecutions. My view, for what it is worth, is that the sooner private prosecutions become “all but unknown” in England and Wales, the better.