The week after Constance Briscoe was sent to prison for her role in the affair, the long running saga of Chrish Huhne, Vicky Pryce and the penalty points seemed to be finally drawing to an end on 9th May 2014 with the judgment of Sweeny J in relation to who should pay the costs of the trial. It’s not quite as simple as that though, with another costs judgment next week, and there is always the possibility that Ms Briscoe will appeal
We have full coverage of the Huhne and Pryce case which can be found here.
It is common for defendants who ‘lose’ a case (who are found guilty, or plead guilty, to some of all of the charges that they face) to be ordered to pay some or all of the costs that the CPS (and sometimes other bodies involved in the Prosecution) have incurred in bringing the case. We have a factsheet on costs here.
Well, it took a year for this to be sorted out, but finally on 9th May 2014 we got the outcome of the CPS application for costs.
Because of the relevance of Constance Briscoe’s actions and the need to ensure she received a fair trial, the judgment could not be given until that trial had ended.
Mr Huhne was ordered to pay costs in the sum of £77,750. Ms Pryce was ordered to pay £49,200. This is obviously far, far higher than normally would be paid (the CPS publish a list of their costs). Normally it is a case of working out what is just, or what someone can afford, but there were clearly different considerations in this case.
One obvious question is why Mr Huhne had to pay so much more than Ms Pryce, especially as he pleaded guilty (albeit rather late in the day) and Mr Pryce had a trial (two trials in fact, although this wasn’t really her fault).
You can read the full judgment here.
Judgment: Key parts
3. Neither defendant objected in principle to the making of a costs order against them. However, various objections were made on behalf of Mr Huhne to aspects of the sums sought against him. In particular, it was asserted on his behalf that no order should be made in respect of the Operation Solar costs.
14. It is thus clear that:
(1) At the outset Ms Briscoe was strongly relied upon by the prosecution as being an important witness against Mr Huhne.
(2) As the principal aspect of her evidence that was relied upon was hearsay, the prosecution were under a duty to investigate her reliability.
(3) That duty had not been fully complied with by the time of the dismissal of the hearsay application hearing on 27 July 2012.
(4) The prosecution’s attempts to fully comply with it thereafter were not successful either.
(5) It was not until the success of the application made on behalf of Mr Huhne on 1 October 2012 that the reality began fully to emerge and Ms Briscoe was abandoned as a witness of truth by the prosecution.
(6) Operation Solar uncovered further evidence of criminal conduct by Ms Briscoe.
(7) The material which emerged from the combination of the success of Mr Huhne’s application and Operation Solar together formed the foundation of a substantial part of the prosecution and conviction of Ms Briscoe.
(8) The reality, confirmed by her conviction, is that whilst purporting to be a witness of truth Ms Briscoe was, in fact, perverting the course of justice.
15. Section 18(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1975 provides that:
“...the court may make such order as to the costs to be paid by the accused to the prosecution as it considers just and reasonable.”
16. The prosecution underlined that, despite his many protestations to the contrary, Mr Huhne must have known all along that he was guilty. It was submitted that he was liable to pay all the just and reasonable costs incurred by the prosecution in his case…
18. On Mr Huhne’s behalf it was submitted that he was not liable to pay any of the investigation costs occasioned during Operation Solar. It was submitted, inter alia, that following the revelation of the material from The Mail on Sunday on 1 October 2012 it was obvious (and should have been before) that the police were under a duty (whatever the position of Mr Huhne) to investigate Ms Briscoe’s likely criminal conduct, and that the investigation had confirmed that, far from being a witness of truth, Ms Briscoe had perverted the course of justice.
19. Considerable issue was also taken on Mr Huhne’s behalf with aspects of the sums otherwise sought by the prosecution. It was submitted, inter alia, that the basis upon which prosecuting counsel had been remunerated (a mixture of VHCC and Graduated Fee) had resulted in costs that were unreasonable. It was submitted that a reasonable figure for prosecution costs in Mr Huhne’s case was £25,000…
20. On Miss Pryce’s behalf the just and reasonable test was underlined. It was pointed out that in previous correspondence the sum claimed had been £38,473.85, but that that had been increased after the prosecution had decided (as to which there was no complaint) that all pre-charge costs should be equally apportioned. I was asked to bear in mind the totality of the expenses which Miss Pryce had already had to incur – particularly that incurred as a result of the way in which Mr Huhne had conducted his abuse of process application, and as a result of her re-trial. I was also asked to bear in mind her age.
 I am not persuaded, in all the circumstances, that it would be just and reasonable to order him to pay any of the investigation costs in relation to Operation Solar. On the other hand, I have no hesitation in rejecting the submission made on his behalf that the reasonable figure of costs in his case is £25,000. Having considered at length the materials put forward in support of the prosecution application, I have concluded (rounding down somewhat the sum sought) that the just and reasonable costs that Mr Huhne should pay is the sum of £76,000 plus £1750 to reflect a fair apportionment of the prosecution costs incurred in relation to the sentencing and costs hearings. The total costs order in Mr Huhne’s case is therefore one of £77,750.
22. I have equally considered with care all the submissions made on behalf of Miss Pryce. There is clearly no need to adjust the final apportionment suggested by the prosecution. Having considered at length the materials put forward in support of the prosecution application, I have concluded (again rounding down somewhat the sum sought) that the just and reasonable costs that Miss Pryce should pay is the sum of £48,000 plus £1200 to reflect a fair apportionment of the prosecution costs incurred in relation to the sentencing and costs hearings. The total costs order in Miss Pryce’s case is therefore one of £49,200.
23. I propose, next week, to hand down a second costs judgment dealing with issues in connection with Associated Newspapers Limited.
The obvious question of why the big difference between the costs ordered against them isn’t clearly answered. The CPS asked for the costs of the investigation relating to Mr Briscoe (‘Operation Solar’) which the Judge, rightly, did not allow, but that doesn’t explain why Mr Huhne had to pay double Ms Pryce. It seems that Mr Huhne was asked to pay the costs of the investigation alone, which appears hardly to be fair.
Another interesting point (for legal aid lawyers at least) is the amount that lawyers got paid for prosecuting this (and, we presume, defending).
If this was a ‘normal’ case then the CPS would have had one barrister who was not a QC, as would the defence. Assuming that there were 1,000 pages of evidence and 50 people who gave witness statements, a full day of legal argument before Mr Huhne threw in the towel and no more that four pre-trial hearings ,then the amounts would have been as follows (for seven days in Court):
CPS advocate – £2,402.25
Defence advocate – £1,833.50
It’s a very different life on legal aid!