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Driven to act - when people bring private prosecutions

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 14 March 2016
  2. Cars and Motoring
  3. 0 comments
Biking through traffic

A notable recent case highlighted the rarely-used freedom of individuals and private organisations to bring their own criminal cases, as a QC became the first individual to ever bring a private prosecution for a motoring offence in the UK.

The first private motoring prosecution

The case was brought by a barrister, Martin Porter QC, after police refused to prosecute the case themselves. Mr Porter, a keen cyclist, accused Aslan Kayardi of almost knocking him off his bike as he sped past him in his sports car.

The incident occurred in West London in February of last year. Mr Porter alleged that Mr Kayardi “shattered” the Highway Code by driving at more than 50mph in a 30mph zone, passing the cycling barrister by a mere “arm’s-length”.

Mr Porter said that the incident had made him feel “highly endangered and alarmed”, and that he had only brought the case because the Metropolitan Police had declined to do so.

Mr Kayardi, who is a former driving instructor, denied the allegation, saying that Mr Porter had been holding up traffic and that he had overtaken him in order to “protect” him from other impatient drivers who might try to overtake him.

Jake Taylor, the barrister representing Mr Kayardi, suggested that Mr Porter had brought the case as part of a grab for publicity.

Despite Mr Porter having a video of the incident and the backing of a consultant accident investigator, the court acquitted Mr Kayardi of dangerous driving, as well as a lesser charge of careless driving.

In a statement afterwards, Mr Porter indicated that he did not regret bringing the case, despite his lack of success.

“Whilst I respect the verdict of the jury, I believe it is only right that Mr Kayardi was required to justify his driving before a Court of Law,” he said. “Every Defendant is entitled to the benefit of any doubt and my assessment of his driving has to bow to that of the jury.

“An acquittal does not imply that a prosecution was not properly brought, although there are of course a number of lessons which I shall endeavour to draw from this experience and which I hope may also benefit others.

“My hope is that lessons can be learned from this prosecution with benefit to all those interested in reducing road danger.”

He added, in a post on his blog, that he was reluctant to release the footage of the incident, as he worried there was “clearly a risk that it will be held up as driving that has been found to be perfectly acceptable”.

Who brings private prosecutions?

While the ability to bring private prosecutions is not as widely used as it once was, it is still considered an essential part of our legal system.

One judge, the late Lord Wilburforce, described this “historical right” as “a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of authority”.

As in the case of Porter vs Kayardi, private prosecutions can be brought when the police or CPS have declined to prosecute an individual.

There have been various high-profile cases brought in this fashion – a private prosecution was brought against suspected murderers of Stephen Lawrence by his parents back in 1996. This prosecution was unsuccessful, as was a prosecution brought by families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster against two senior police officers who had been in charge of the match that day.

There is another significant private prosecution on the horizon, brought against Harry Clarke, the driver of a bin lorry which crashed when he fainted. He is being prosecuted by the families of those killed in the crash.

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