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The primary consideration is do you want to try and get your money back?  If the answer is yes, then you need to bring civil proceedings against the defendant, maybe in parallel with reporting the matter to the police/SFO. 

Pluses of civil proceedings 

  • Proceedings can be begun and ancillary orders (e.g. freezing orders) can be obtained very quickly, without the uncertainty associated with if a prosecuting authority will investigate.
  • The main aim of civil proceedings is the recovery of, or compensation for, losses suffered by the victim. If successful, you will obtain a judgment against the defendant which can be enforced against the defendant’s assets; this is how you are financially compensated for your loss. In criminal proceedings unless you can overcome the high hurdles to persuade the prosecutor to seek a compensation order (following a conviction) there will be no financial compensation for you.
  • You are in complete control of whether to bring civil proceedings and how those proceedings progress. If you report a matter to the police/prosecuting authorities there is no guarantee that the defendant will be investigated or prosecuted and you have no control over the investigation or prosecution, or any publicity in respect of the investigation or prosecution.
  • There is the process of “disclosure” which means that the defendant (as well as the victim) must disclose documents which may support your case and may assist in tracing the defendant’s assets.
  • The standard of proof is less – you have to prove your case on “the balance of probabilities”. In criminal matters the prosecution has to prove their case “beyond reasonable doubt”, so before you can expect any form of recovery or retribution the criminal case must be proved to this higher criminal standard.
  • A variety of court orders are available to you to assist in preserving the defendant’s assets and obtaining information from the defendant and his/her bank, for example freezing orders, search orders, Banker’s Trust orders.
  • It is much quicker to bring, complete and obtain judgment in civil proceedings than it is for the authorities to investigate and prosecute a criminal matter and then, following a conviction, seek a compensation order.
  • Civil trials tend to be shorter than criminal trials.
  • English civil judgments can be enforced in foreign jurisdictions enabling victims to seize the assets of the defendant even if held outside England and Wales.

 Advantages of criminal proceedings 

  • The police/SFO have wider powers of investigation than you or your lawyers, for example, entering homes and business premises to execute search warrants (without notice), accessing bank accounts, telephone records and confidential information not available to the public, as well as interviewing witnesses under compulsion.
  • If convicted, the defendant may receive a custodial sentence and/or a hefty fine.  The fact that the defendant has been sent to prison may go someway to compensating you, even though you may not receive any financial compensation.
  • If there are parallel investigations on-going in different jurisdictions the law enforcement bodies in those jurisdictions may cooperate, for example, by pooling evidence which may make it easier to obtain a conviction.
  • You are not responsible for the costs, whereas in civil proceedings you are responsible for the costs (although if successful you may obtain an order for costs against the defendant).


For help and advice please contact Phil Alden on 03333 231 586 or email us.

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