Tag Archives: Huhne

Huhne & Pryce costs judgment released

Photo from the Guardian

Photo from the Guardian

Introduction

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.

Judgment: Summary

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

t

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.

[21] 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.

Comment

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!

Advertisements

Huhne and Pryce released after serving 2 months of 8-month sentences – Why?

HuneChris Huhne and Vicky Pryce
were today, 13 May 2013, released from prison after serving just
25% of their 8-month sentences.

The background facts leading up to
the sentencing hearing can be seen here.
Pryce was convicted of, and Huhne pleaded guilty to, perverting the
course of justice.

Both were sentenced to 8 months
imprisonment. We stated that both would be eligible for release at
the half way point of their sentences, but would also be eligible
for release on a tag after 2 months. Here
is how we dealt with the sentences.

They were released after serving
just 25% of their sentences. Why?

Release

Well when a court expresses a
custodial sentence in terms of months and/or years, that represents
the total sentence, not just the time spent in custody. So, where a
judge says ‘Mr Smith the sentence I impose upon you is one of 3
years’ imprisonment.’ That will often be followed by an explanation
of roughly how long will be served in custody. If the sentence is 3
years, Mr Smith will be eligible for release at the halfway point,
with the balance of the sentence being served on licence.

The licence essentially
comprises of restrictions placed upon the offender with a
requirement to meet a probation officer to discuss the offender’s
progress. Any offences committed on licence would result in the
offender being returned to prison to serve all or part of the
balance of the sentence and any sentence imposed for the new
offences.

HDC /
Tagging

Here
we explain the general rules for the release from prison
sentences.

So why
were Huhne and Pryce release after ¼ not ½ of their sentences? Well
prisoners serving certain sentences are eligible to be released on
a tag, also known as HDC or Home Detention Curfew. This involves
being released to a specified address, on the condition that a
curfew (and other conditions) are adhered to. Release on HDC still
forms the punitive part of the sentence, but with the benefit of a)
reducing the prison population (and so reducing costs), b) allowing
the offender to begin their reintroduction into society and c)
retaining a degree of punishment and supervision over the
offender.

Here
we explain the general rules for release on Home Detention Curfew
(also known as ‘tagging’).

Contrary to popular belief (and what
was said on Radio 4 this morning), there is no release on or for
good behaviour. Good behaviour in prison is rewarded with
privileges, unacceptable behaviour is punished. But the sentence of
the court remains. 8 months is 8 months (subject to release
provisions as determined by Parliament).

Good
behaviour

Otherwise, there could be
inconsistencies between different prisons – staying out of trouble
in Preston might (in the Governor’s view) warrant a 7 day early
release for good behaviour, but might result in only a 1 day early
release in Wandsworth. Clearly that would be
unfair.

Huhne and Pryce – The argument FOR imprisonment

Most days of the working week my focus is upon improving prison conditions; upholding prisoners’ rights or trying to keep people out of, or get them out of prison. It may come as a surprise therefore when I appear on the ‘lock him up’ side of the Huhne sentencing argument.

It shouldn’t. The last lot, Labour created so many criminal offences that every citizen and company is guilty of something. Whilst doing so they diluted common law protections for the Defendant. Cue the Condemnation. The Conservatives who promised to guarantee traditional rights and their Liberal colleagues dedicated to the rule of law have set about dismantling the legal aid system. Under both Governments the prison population has been disproportionately high. Meanwhile, from the Cabinet Office, Ministers queue up at the microphone to criticise the latest judgment that goes against them whilst deciding en masse to ignore the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

The disregard for the Rule of Law and centuries of common law is palpable. Politicians have now taken to not only openly criticising those who interpret and practice the law but at times are attempting to completely ignore the law.

The utter arrogance of this political generation is astonishing. Huhne was correctly locked up. If nothing else it reminds those in Government that despite how they might wish otherwise they are still subject to the laws of this Country and require its protections as much as anybody else.

The sentence received by Huhne was well within the sentencing range laid down by the various range of authorities provided by the Court of Appeal. The course of public justice is only served when all of those who seek to pervert it are properly punished. There can be no doubt that Huhne’s position of public trust and the betrayal of that trust is massively aggravating.

My learned friend for keeping him out will no doubt say there is no rehabilitative effect of a short sentence, nor is Huhne a risk to the public and finally he will be so quickly in open conditions that there will be no punitive aspect to the offence.

That may well be true. But perverting the course of justice is about protecting a system. A public system of justice. Any sentence of less than imprisonment would have been outside the range of sentencing that a normal member of the public would have faced.

Prison for Huhne is a reflection of the fact that his offence was one against public justice. It shows too that politicians are not immune from the criminal law. Frankly, all of the present political generation ought to remind themselves of the concept of a public justice. The fact that someone is a politican is not a get out of jail free card.

Perhaps Huhne will also benefit from an epiphany as Aitken did. And once he is released perhaps he will share with his political generation the reality of a country who locks up too many prisoners, a criminal justice system which no longer protects the individual but is used as a political tool to try and satisfy a braying mass.

By @For_The_Defence

See FTD’s excellent blog http://forthedefence.org/about/

Chris Huhne (8 months) and Vicky Pryce (8 months) sentenced for perverting the course of justice

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce arriving at Southwark Crown Court earlier

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce were sentenced this afternoon by Mr Justice Sweeney to 8 months and 8 months imprisonment respectively. Chris Huhne received a 10% deduction for his plea of guilty.

The key information is available here, including the facts, the abuse of process applications and those infamous jury questions. There is also a brief look at the sentences for such cases – and a prediction.

The sentencing remarks are available here.

It is extremely useful having the sentencing remarks and they’re certainly worth reading (they’re only 5 pages), but a brief summary follows:

After setting out the facts of the offence and the history of the proceedings, the Judge noted that whilst this was a huge tragedy and fall from grace for them, “any element of tragedy is entirely your own fault“.

He then noted that there were no guidelines for the offence, but that this sort offending inevitably carries a custodial sentence unless there are exceptional circumstances. And in this case, those circumstances did not exist.

In relation to Chris Huhne, the Judge stated that the offence was his idea which made him more culpable (but not by much). Taking into account the delay before his sentence and the impact on his career, the starting point would be 9 months in prison. Given his late guilty plea, the actual sentence would be 8 months.

In relation to Vicky Pryce, the Judge stated that in his view she was marginally less culpable and noted that this would have a catastrophic effect on her. However, there was no genuine remorse and nothing that could mean that the sentence could be suspended. For that reason, she also was sentenced to 8 months.

When will they be released?

Neither have spent any time on custody, so the sentence of 8 months will start from today. The normal rules mean that they will have to serve half of that – so 4 months. They will both be eligible for HDC (early release on a tag) which means, in this case, they could be released after two months.

Given their age and personal background it’s highly unlikely that they will be in trouble again. Also, they clearly do not present any violent or sexual risk to the public, so it is almost certain that they will be released on a tag in 2 months.

Will they appeal?

In relation to Ms Pryce, we do not know if she will appeal to her conviction.

As to the sentence – it is above the usual sentences given for this offence, but not by much. For this reason, whilst it may be that both will appeal, we would not expect their sentence to be reduced.

Which prison will they go to?

Overnight, it will be the local prisons, probably Wandsworth for Mr Huhne and Holloway for Ms Pryce.

Given that the sentences are quite short, it may be that they are kept there for the whole sentence (see here for an overview). If they are moved then they will both by Cat D.

R v Huhne and Pryce – The key information

R v Huhne and Pryce – Sentencing hearing

Southwark Crown Court

11 February 2013, 2pm

Mr Justice Sweeney

Facts can be found here.

Here is an explanation of what perverting the course of justice is.

The emails between Pryce and The Sunday Times can be found here. 

An explanation of how Huhne tried to avoid pleading guilty can be found here

Click here for our report of when Huhne pleaded guilty.

Here is a timeline of the Pryce trial. 

The questions asked by the first Pryce jury can be seen here.

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.

When might Pryce and Huhne be released? Here is an explanation of release provisions. 

What is the likely sentence? See here for a brief look.

R v Huhne and Pryce – A brief chronology

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.

See here for the emails between Pryce and The Sunday Times. 

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.

Click here to see how Huhne tried to avoid pleading guilty.

This led to Huhne pleaded guilty on the day set for trial.

Click here for our report of when Huhne pleaded guilty.

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.

Here is a timeline of the trial. 

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.

R v Huhne and Pryce – What is the likely sentence?

R v Huhne and Pryce – Sentencing hearing

Southwark Crown Court

11 February 2013, 2pm

Mr Justice Sweeney

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce were warned to be under no illusion as to the sentence they would likely receive when sentenced. This means they are going to receive custodial sentences.

The Court of Appeal have said that this offence should always lead to a custodial sentence ‘in all but the most exceptional circumstances’.

But how long? Well let’s first look at Huhne. He pleaded guilty, on the day of trial. Here is our explanation of the usual way in which credit for a guilty plea is calculated.

Based on that, one may think he is entitled to no more than 10%. However, based on his abuse of process applications (for an explanation, see here) it may be that Huhne is entitled to more. It will not have been Chris Huhne’s decision to have the abuse of process applications immediately before the trial and so it could be argued that his late plea is not a consequence of his persistent denials of guilt. Consequently, it may be said on his behalf that he would have pleaded guilty earlier, had the abuse applications been heard sooner. If Mr Kelsey-Fry is feeling cheeky, he may even argue that Huhne had the right to make the abuse applications and upon their determination (against him) pleaded at the first reasonable opportunity. Such an argument is unlikely to succeed. He may receive 20% credit – but it is difficult to predict.

Turning to Vicky Pryce, she did not plead guilty and so she receives no such credit. She was obviously less culpable than Huhne, who instigated the offence, and gained nothing from the offence.

Perhaps Huhne and Pryce could end up with the same sentence – the 20% credit for plea wiping out the uplift for being the driving force behind the offence.

The persistent denials have certainly done them no favours.

My personal view is that 9 months would be appropriate, however, on the authorities, it may be that 6 months is more in keeping with sentencing practice.

Of course, there is much to be said in mitigation – how much both of them have lost, personally and professionally, and so the range would appear to be from 4 months (any shorter would not mark the seriousness of the offence) to 16 months (any longer would certainly trouble the Court of Appeal.