R v Huhne and Pryce – Sentencing hearing
Southwark Crown Court
11 February 2013, 2pm
Mr Justice Sweeney
Well, where to start? The Huhne/Pryce saga has provided many column inches over the last month or so. On Friday, Vicky Pryce was convicted of perverting the course of justice by a unanimous verdict. Chris Huhne had earlier pleaded guilty after attempts to have the prosecution stayed as an abuse of process.
So, let’s set out exactly what has happened.
In short, Huhne was caught speeding, attracting 3 penalty points. He already had 9 on his licence and so would be liable to be disqualified via the totting up procedure. He asked (or made, if you believe Vicky Pryce) his then wife, Pryce, to ‘take’ the points for him. This essentially involved Chris Huhne completing a form stating that he was not driving, and Vicky Pryce completing a form stating that she was driving. This would absolve Huhne of liability and therefore he would retain his licence.
He did retain his licence, for all of 3 months. He was caught speeding once again and was disqualified.
Subsequently, Chris Huhne had an affair with Carina Trimmingham, his PR aide. He left Pryce and the family home.
Pryce then sought to ‘ruin’ Huhne and began conversations with The Sunday Times about how best to orchestrate Huhne’s downfall. The allegations of Huhne making someone take his penalty points subsequently turned into an admission that Pryce had been a part of the deception.
Pryce was advised that there was a risk but that it was ‘highly unlikely’ that she would be prosecuted (note: don’t take your legal advice from a journalist). The allegations were made public and so the CPS became interested. Hunhe was charged with perverting the course of justice and amid blanket denials from Huhne, the case began to strengthen.
Here is an explanation of the offence.
Huhne pleaded not guilty. Pryce pleaded not guilty.
Huhne made a series of attempts to have the prosecution kicked out. Andrew Keogh of Crimeline wrote a superb explanation of the basis for the abuse of process applications.
This led to Huhne pleaded guilty on the day set for trial.
Pryce’s trial began and it appeared that the defence she was seeking to establish was one of marital coercion.
There was extensive legal argument over the defence of marital coercion; it had not been before the courts since R v Shortland 1996 – pre the Human Rights Act. It was therefore necessary to re-examine the law and determine whether it was lawful to require Pryce to prove that she was coerced, or whether, pursuant to her article 6 rights, and the presumption of innocence, the burden should be ‘read down’ to an evidential burden only and that it was for the prosecution to disprove the claim that Pryce was coerced. Click here for the reasons given by Sweeney J.
The jury asked a series of questions which created quite a stir on Twitter and in the press. They can be seen here.
The jury were then discharged for failing to reach a decision (although in light of Sweeney J’s comments about the questions asked, it was suspected that a factor was the fact that the jury had appeared to fundamentally fail to grasp how a jury trial works and what their function was.).
See here for an opinion piece on the potential consequences of discharging the jury for failing to reach a verdict rather than because there were concerns over the propriety of any verdict they would return.
The CPS announced they would seek a retrial and a retrial was set for the following week.
Pryce was convicted on Thursday 7 March of perverting the course of justice. In a statement, she said she was disappointed.
Sentencing was adjourned until Monday 11 March 2013. When Huhne pleaded guilty, he was told to be under no illusion as to the sentence he would receive – this is a slightly flowery way of saying he can expect a custodial sentence. This would have come as no surprise to him, I am sure.
Pryce was given the same warning on Thursday.
Sentencing will take place at Southwark Crown Court at 2pm before Mr Justice Sweeney.