There is a verdict in the trial of economist Vicky Pryce, 60, the wife of former cabinet minister Chris Huhne (left). Pryce raised a “marital coercion” defense in saying that her husband coerced her to lie and take his speeding points 10 years ago. It is a bizarre case, not only because you have a successful woman claiming that she was coerced into this act, but also the level of prosecution over that taking of speeding points.
Pryce was reportedly shocked that her claim of spousal coercion failed after she was convicted of perverting the course of justice. The jury clearly decided that she was lying and I can understand why. Pryce’s defense is a slap in the face of any modern woman and seemed ill-suited for the former joint head of the government economic service and a leading candidate for the Bank of England monetary policy committee and the House of Lords. Yet, Pryce insisted that she was fearful and coerced by former energy secretary Huhne, 58, when he allegedly asked her to take his points after a speeding incident — points that might have faced a driving ban. Pryce signed a statement that it was her driving Huhne’s black BMW.
Her husband pleaded guilty a few weeks ago and resigned as a MP. Pryce was tried once before but the first jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict.
Huhne’s fall is quite a nose bleed. A former British cabinet minister, he was appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the coalition government in 2010.
In an added twist, Pryce reported set out to get the points story into the media as revenge for an infidelity scandal involving her husband. She allegedly first tried to say that he had a constituent take the blame, but then recorded conversations where she tried to get Huhne to incriminate himself.
After Pryce’s conviction, emails were published that showed that Pryce told business secretary Vince Cable, the senior Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott and his wife Rachel, over supper. “They were horrified at the time but VC has probably forgotten it by now. He was v tired that night,” Pryce wrote. Cable and his wife have denied any memory of the disclosure. The emails suggest that other powerful figures were told by Pryce, who does not appear to have been so coerced that she kept any of this a secret. Now, the act of taking points for a spouse has resulted in not just two prosecutions but an expanding political scandal. Moreover, Pryce was represented by barrister and part-time judge, Constance Briscoe, 55, who herself now may face charges over her involvement in the case. Prosecutors say that Briscoe knew in 2003 that Pryce lied but was released as a “witness of truth.” However, she was arrested after allegedly lying to police by claiming to have had no dealings with newspapers over the speeding story. Again, this is a difference with the states in criminalizing a media contact. The English system is far more restrictive on the media on stories related to a trial. Now, she is facing trial and a host of prominent English figures are under scrutiny regarding their knowledge. All over a case of speeding.
Pryce, mother of five, is now looking at between four and 36 months as the common range for incarceration on such charges.
Another difference with the system in the states is that, because Huhne changed his plea on the first day of their joint trial, the prosecution wants him to pay the full costs of the case against him. That could reach as much as £200,000. We have previously discussed the “English Rule” in forcing the losing party to pay the other side’s cost — a rule that I have long criticized as favoring corporations and powerful individuals. This shows the flip side of the coin where criminal costs are imposed for simply pleading guilty.
Once again, all of this began with a simple speeding citation.