Constance Briscoe guilty: High-flying barrister faces jail for lying in Chris Huhne speeding case
Chris Huhne labels the part-time judge a 'compulsive and self-publicising fantasist' and demands a review of her cases for potential miscarriages of justice
Scotland Yard has launched a new criminal inquiry into one of Britain’s best-known barristers, with her high-flying career set to end today with a prison term.
Once feted as a black role model and champion of the abused, part-time judge Constance Briscoe was damned over her role in the political destruction of the former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne – and portrayed as a manipulative fantasist whose own family had warned the authorities for years that she had lied and falsified documents on her path to legal success.
Briscoe, 56, the author of a bestselling memoir of her unhappy childhood, is likely to be the first judge to be jailed for nearly two decades, after a jury found her guilty yesterday of lying to officers investigating the former Cabinet Minister for swapping speeding points with his then-wife to avoid a driving ban.
Her conviction comes 15 years after the Bar Council declined to investigate allegations made by the barrister’s mother into Briscoe’s fitness to practice over a litany of allegations, which included forging signatures and falsifying information on official documents.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it would not review cases for potential miscarriages of justice during her 29-year career at the bar, despite demands by Mr Huhne, who was jailed for perverting the course of justice after his ex-wife and Briscoe exposed his crime to the media. “We have no plans to review cases involving Constance Briscoe as counsel,” it said in a statement.
Mr Huhne – whose rising political career was ended by the revelations of the point-swapping and subsequent cover-up – said: “Constance Briscoe has been revealed as a compulsive and self-publicising fantasist… The Bar, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary went on entrusting her with responsibility for people’s lives because they were not prepared to blow the whistle on one of their own.”
Her conviction means it can now be revealed that police are investigating allegations that Briscoe tampered with documents used in her successful libel battle against her mother in 2008. The case was sparked by the disgraced judge’s unflinching depiction of a violent childhood in her book Ugly but members of her family said her claims were lies.
Briscoe and her publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, have pursued 80-year-old Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell for costs of more than £500,000 as a result of the case, but a plan to evict her from her home was put on hold pending the outcome of the barrister’s two trials. The publisher today failed to respond to requests for a comment.
Ms Briscoe-Mitchell told The Independent that she was preparing to restart the legal battle and demanded an apology after Briscoe claimed in the book that her mother cut her with a knife, beat her for wetting the bed and taunted her about her appearance. “Of course she’ll have to go to prison for lying all the time,” she said.
The libel battle divided the family and Ms Briscoe-Mitchell has contended that her daughter won the case based on tampered documents and her status as a senior legal professional.
Scotland Yard confirmed on Thursday that it would be looking into her allegations. “We were contacted in September last year regarding an allegation of fraud, which relates to documents that were allegedly fraudulently obtained from Southwark Council. The matter is being investigated by Lewisham CID,” said a spokesman.
The guilty verdicts brought an end to the second trial of the suspended barrister for misleading police about her central role in exposing Mr Huhne’s crime of passing speeding points to his then wife, former government economist Vicky Pryce, and then tampering with documents to cover up her deception.
Briscoe was found guilty of three counts of perverting the course of justice in acting as the fixer for Pryce, her friend and neighbour. Pryce wanted to get revenge on her husband who had been having an affair with an aide by arranging for a newspaper to reveal in 2010 that they had lied about who was driving when he was caught speeding 11 years ago. However, the revelation meant they were both jailed for six months.
Briscoe had claimed that she was told in 2003 about the points swap. Phone records revealed that she was involved in passing the story to newspapers despite her denials to police. She was removed as the main prosecution witness in the Huhne trial – throwing the whole case into jeopardy – and was subsequently charged with three counts of perverting the course of justice.
Briscoe’s legal team had claimed that she had become enmeshed in a personal and political manoeuvrings between the feuding politician and the economist after the break-up of the marriage in 2010 and got herself into the “most frightful mess”.
However, her story unravelled when the scale of her contacts with the newspaper emerged through emails and telephone calls. During a covertly recorded phone call between Huhne and Pryce, the former minister suspected Briscoe was behind the leaks to the media. “The only person batty enough to go on this sort of vendetta is Constance,” he said.
One journalist wrote to a colleague that Ms Briscoe “is determined to go for the kill. Unlike VP [Vicky Pryce] she is nicely out of the spotlight and just wants Huhne to get his comeuppance, ie, to lose his position as Energy Secretary and be exposed as a liar”.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Ms Briscoe-Mitchell, 80, have pored over fresh allegations of dishonesty heard at the trial including claims that she forged of a signature of a friend, an Australian judge, so she could skip a course, fly home and collect an award.
Ms Briscoe-Mitchell wrote a nine-page letter to the Bar Council in 1999, seen by The Independent, saying her daughter should be barred from the profession because of alleged dishonesty and financial wrong-doing.
Her letter included a claim that her daughter forged the signature of a relative to obtain a council flat and falsified information on a passport application. The Bar Council declined to act, saying it was a result of “inter family discord” and there was no evidence to substantiate the allegation, according to documents seen by The Independent. The Bar Council failed to respond to inquiries last night.
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