Sunday 10 March 2013

Vicky Pryce in the dock

The Chris Huhne saga is about to come to an end with the sentencing of his former wife, Vicky Pryce, and himself over the next days. His former wife, who had contacted newspapers with a story about a criminal offence that he had committed, has herself now been convicted of perjury. She is likely to get a (suspended) prison sentence. Her defence was curious, to say the least, and the twitter and blogsphere is full of vitriolic comments about her behaviour. Few commentators can find it in themselves to defend her. Why?

Pryce's husband had had an affair with another woman and eventually separated from Pryce. Pryce then tried to ruin his career by first making up a false story and contacting a newspaper to get it printed. The paper declined. Then she told an accurate story to the Times' journalist Isabel Oakeshott but the problem was that, if the story was to become public, Pryce herself was likely to end up in court. She had taken points on behalf of her husband and now wanted to publicise this so it would ruin his career.

The evidence in court clearly showed that Pryce was motivated by hatred and bitterness towards her disloyal husband but she was walking a fine line. If the story was to be printed, her husband's fall from grace was inevitable but so was hers.

Vicky Pryce - abusing the law to shield herself from prosecution

As the truth slowly but steadily came to light, she went even further. She thought of a curious, rarely used legal defence to spare herself jail. She claimed 'marital coercion' on the side of her husband.

Whatever you may think about a bitter woman trying to get back at her cheating husband, the legal defence she cooked up is the main reason that few are defending her now. Marital coercion is a law that explicitly supports vulnerable women who are in exploitative and violent relationships with men. The Law Commission recommended it to be abolished in 1977. It assumes the inability of the woman to freely chose her own action. In essence, it is a last resort law that is supposed to protect women (and only women) who cannot withstand the physical and mental bullying by their husbands.

Think what you may about a law that grants a privilege to one gender only, the jury did not recognise this picture in the case of Vicky Pryce anyway. The jury convicted her of perjury. What is upsetting to many (first and foremost probably feminists) is that one of the most powerful women in the country was abusing a law that was there to protect vulnerable women to get away with a criminal offence. It's Pryce's dishonesty and cavalier treatment of the law that finds few supporters.

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