Taking the law into their own hands
The parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence might have been better advised to pursue a civil action than a private prosecution, writes Sharon Wallach
Wednesday 03 May 1995
Indeed, no less an authority than Anthony Scrivenor QC, a former chairman of the Bar, believes a civil action for damages would have been a more effective route than a private prosecution for murder in bringing to justice those responsible for the killing in south-east London two years ago.
Four white men were remanded in custody last week, jointly charged with unlawful killing, after Neville and Doreen Lawrence initiated proceedings in Greenwich magistrates' court. Stephen, who was 18, was stabbed at a bus-stop in Eltham in April 1993 and died of his wounds. Four people were arrested after the attack, and three months later two men were charged with murder. But the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The four accused are Neil Acourt, 19, Luke Knight and David Norris, both 18, and another man, aged 18, who cannot be named for legal reasons. The police have refused to confirm whether any of the four were involved in the original inquiry.
The last successful private prosecution for murder occurred in 1865. Since then only two others have been brought, the last in 1988, and both failed.
The procedure for launching a private prosecutions begins with obtaining a magistrates' court summons. At this stage, proof is not necessary. You have merely to show a basis for a case for a summons to be granted. The matter continues as any other case unless the CPS intervenes to take over, alter the charge or end the case for lack of evidence.
In theory, the individual has a right to bring a private prosecution (with the proviso that certain offences may be prosecuted only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General), but in practice the CPS has complete statutory discretion to take over a case, without the obligation to offer reasons.
In this instance, the Lawrences are hoping that the CPS will take over the case. As their solicitor Imran Khan points out: "We have always maintained the CPS had sufficient evidence."
So far, however, the CPS has yet to make a decision over whether or not to intervene. The service is reluctant to be seen to interfere with the individual's right to bring a prosecution, unless asked to do so. "The case was dropped because in our view there was not a realistic prospect of conviction on the basis of the evidence we were given at the time," a spokesman says.
For tactical reasons, Mr Scrivenor wonders whether the private prosecution was the best move. There may be a danger, he says, that the CPS decides to take the case over in order to close it down.
"The DPP would look a bit foolish if the case was allowed to go ahead after the CPS said the first time round that there was insufficient evidence," he suggests.
Should this happen, it may be difficult to revive the issue. According to Mr Scrivenor, so far no one has sought a judicial review to test a CPS decision to close down a case. There is also a statutory time-limit of six years for bringing an action in a case of this nature.
Another factor is cost. The Lawrences are receiving no legal aid for the private prosecution. Their legal team, including their barrister Michael Mansfield QC, are offering their services free, but Mr and Mrs Lawrence could still face a hefty bill, particularly if they lose the case and are sued for damages by the defendants. A Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign is attempting to raise £10,000 as an "insurance mechanism" should the action fail.
All in all, Mr Scrivenor suggests that by far the best tactic would be to bring a civil action for damages against the four defendants. A civil case would be a dry run for the evidence, he says, particularly if the judge is requested to follow criminal standards of proof.
"If a High Court judge says guilty, the CPS would have to take the case on," Mr Scrivenor says.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Questions of Cash: What are my rights if my leak is caused by neighbours’ roofs?
Pension mortgages: 'The advice I was given was wrong and now I face losing my home'
Minister's pension promise to firefighters challenged
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
The 10 Best money-saving sites
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
- 4 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
- 5 UK weather: 'Coldest night of the year' tonight as freezing temperatures plummet to -10C
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
iJobs Money & Business
Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...
Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...
Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...
Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...
Day In a Page
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens