Examining the guilty verdict in the case of R -v- Pryce.

Vicky Pryce was today convicted at Southwark Crown Court of committing the offence perverting the course of justice after a jury found that she had taken speeding points on behalf of her ex-husband,  ex-cabinet minister Chris Huhne. Last month I wrote two posts, A History of Marital Coercion, which examined the history of the defence, and Majority Verdicts, which looked at the discharge of the original jury in this case after the judge declared it had a “fundamental deficit in understanding” of its role. Today’s post examines the guilty verdict itself and what this means for the defendant. A BBC report by their Legal Affairs Correspondent, Clive Coleman, detailing the timeline of the whole case can be found here.

Pryce has been given bail following her guilty verdict. But the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, warned her to be “under no illusions” regarding what sentence she faces upon her return to court. It is highly likely that Huhne will get a discounted sentence for pleading guilty to the crime at an earlier stage, but Pryce is unlikely to receive the same leniency. Both are more than likely to be custodial sentences in nature.

The sentencing guidelines used by the CPS in cases of perverting the course of justice can be found here. They suggest that the punishment for this offence can be anything from 4 months to 36 months custodial sentence, although it is possible for it to be longer by longer depending upon the facts of the specific case. The case of R v Tunney [2007] 1 Cr. App. R. (S) 91 states that the sentence appropriate for perverting the course of justice essentially depends on three matters:

  1. the seriousness of the substantive offence to which the perverting of the course of justice related;
  2. the degree of persistence; and
  3. the effect of the attempt to pervert the course of justice on the course of justice itself.

A couple of cases that bear similarities to the Pryce case and may be used by the CPS and the court in making reaching a sentence are the following:

The case of R v Francis-McGann [2003] 1 Cr. App. R. (S) 14 also involved a speed camera. When the defendant realised he had been caught speeding he phoned the police to say that the vehicle had been exported. He was convicted after trial of concealing evidence that led to the crime of perverting the course of justice and was sentence to three months imprisonment.

In R v Snow [2008] 2 Cr. App. R. (S) 87the defendant was stopped by police while driving and gave his brother’s details instead of his own. A summons was issued in his brother’s name, and the brother was convicted in absence. The defendant was later stopped on a second occasion, and gave his name as Foster. He was arrested and admitted he lied in police interview. He was Sentenced to nine months imprisonment on each count to run consecutively. This was later reduced to a total of 12 months’ imprisonment on appeal.

Of course Pryce’s legal team will attempt to make mitigation arguments in order to limit her sentence, or indeed to appeal her conviction in its entirety, but as David Allen Green pointed out via Twitter earlier today, In essence, the jury have not only found #Pryce guilty of taking points; but also that she is a liar re her marital coercion defence.’

As to the whether or not the martial coercion defence will remain a defence in law, well only time will tell. As I pointed out here, with Parliament passing its Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill  the government proposes that couples who are of the same-sex can now get married. So in its current form the law on marital coercion would only potentially apply to lesbian couples and not gay male couples. Surely that is discriminatory. Furthermore, it is not readily available to other women who may be placed in an equally vulnerable position such as a woman cohabiting with a man or a daughter under the age of 18. Perhaps the law, like many before it, needs to evolve and be brought into the 21st Century. And even if it isn’t there is, after all, already the defence of duress which should be enough in cases such as this.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice. My apologies for the poor pun which is the title for this post. I just could not help myself. The Pryce is Wrong was also considered but quickly discarded.