On 1st May 2014 Constance Briscoe, a barrister and Recorder (part-time Judge) was convicted of three offences of Perverting the Course of Justice and bailed overnight for sentence to be passed.
We commented that it was an inevitable custodial sentence, in the order of 18 months. How did we do?
The sentencing remarks are now available. We know that the Judge sentenced her to 16 months in prison, so we were not that far off the mark.The posts that we had linked to set out the various sentencing decisions that the Judge would have looked at (which is what we based our prediction on).
This is a serious offence which almost always leads to a prison sentence. Here, there were a lot of personal circumstances that were good mitigating features, but these would be far outweighed by the seriousness of the offences.
There had been speculation as to whether Ms Briscoe’s job as a barrister would have made the Judge go easier on her. It wouldn’t, if anything, it goes the other way. She, of all people, should have known that this was wrong. Also, Judges are aware that when they are sentencing ‘one of their own’ are acutely aware that the public are looking at them to see if they are lenient, and this often leads to a sentence higher than one would otherwise get.
What next for Ms Briscoe?
Her legal career is finished – there is no way that she will be allow to practice after this.
Famously, in 2008 she won a libel trial brought by her mother in relation to her books. It has already been announced that this will be re-investigated.
Chris Huhne took the conviction of Ms Briscoe with less than good grace and sympathy, saying – “Constance Briscoe has been revealed as a compulsive and self-publicising fantasist. British justice is likely to be a lot fairer with Briscoe behind bars. If she can make up the witness statement used as the key evidence against me, she is clearly capable of hiding evidence she should have disclosed to the defence in the many cases that she prosecuted for the Crown Prosecution Service. Aggrieved defendants will now seek a CPS review.”
Whilst Mr Huhne may not particularly have the moral high ground, one can understand why he feels a bit aggrieved in the circumstances. Is he right that there will be a raft of convictions being found unsafe?
Probably not. The Courts are generally very reluctant to go over old cases, and there was a warning last week from the Court of Appeal that this will be even harder in future. For any case to be successful actual prejudice would have to be shown – a situation where Ms Briscoe deliberately withheld evidence or lied to the Court (as two examples), to the detriment of a defendant. Similarly with case that she sat as a Judge over. This is very difficult from such a distance of time, and even if some failing can be picked out, a defendant would need to show that this may have impacted on the verdict – a very high task.
Having said that, it is understandable that people who were prosecuted, defended or sentenced by Ms Briscoe may feel slightly aggrieved.