Attorney General urged to consider longer jail terms for Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 13 March 2013
Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, was urged today to seek longer jail terms for Chris Huhne and his former wife Vicky Pryce by a Conservative MP who said their eight-month sentences were “unduly lenient.”
David Burrowes, a Parliamentary Private Secretary, has urged the Government's senior law officer in a letter to use his power to appeal against the sentence imposed on Huhne and Pryce for perverting the course of justice 10 years after their “points swapping” for a speeding offence committed by Huhne. After studying previous cases, he said they should have both received jail terms of 12 months or more.
Huhne and his partner Carina Trimingham denied newspaper reports about the way he has been treated at Wandsworth Prison since he began serving his sentence on Monday night. They denied he has he has been bullied or ridiculed by any prisoners or prison officers, or has been asked for money; that he has been moved, or asked to be moved, to a segregation wing for vulnerable prisoners and that there was tannoy announcement calling him to breakfast.
Mr Burrowes told The Independent that he believed both Huhne and his ex-wife, a former senior government economist, should have received longer sentences. He said: “The offence strikes at the root of the criminal justice system. I don't believe the sentences reflect the seriousness of the issue, and the importance of upholding the integrity of the system. It was important not only that it was a custodial sentence but that it reflected the serious of it, particularly for someone who over a prolonged period of time lied and lied again and brought down his wife with him.”
The MP for Enfield Southgate said: “The sentence should reflect the public interest point of view that law-makers cannot be law-breakers and should also be law-respecters. There is also the issue of deterrence and the exemplary nature of sentences. They fell short of comparable cases and the facts of this case.”
Mr Burrowes believed Pryce as well as Huhne should receive a longer jail term. “I have more sympathy for Vicky Pryce. She was under some emotional pressure from Chris Huhne. But her defence of marital coercion was rejected as false. She was very much part and parcel of it, even though the focus was on Huhne. Whilst there is sympathy for a personal and family tragedy, the reality is that they had positions with a high level of trust and responsibility and fundamentally broke the trust of the public they were serving.”
In a letter to the Attorney General, the Tory MP said the 10 per cent discount for Huhne's last-minute guilty plea appeared “generous” because of his “prolonged and persistent misleading conduct” over 10 years.
Mr Burrowes told Mr Grieve: “There is a concern that the sentence, particularly for Chris Huhne, was lenient compared to comparable cases involving people who were not politicians or in high profile positions. It is important that there is no substance for the perception of there being one rule for the rulers and another for the ruled.”
Robert Brown, Pryce's solicitor, questioned whether she should have been treated as a victim rather than a defendant as he suggested an appeal was still being considered by her. He cautioned critics of the “marital coercion” defence that they could leave victims of domestic abuse defenceless if it was removed.
The case has provoked demands for the “arcane” defence - which applies only to wives - to be scrapped. Mr Brown said the law needs updating, but told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “Those responsible for that should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are still cases where there are women in relationships where they are vulnerable and they may be put under pressure to commit crimes and they need the state to be able to defend them rather than just prosecute them.”
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