'Marital coercion': Pryce makes the case for her defence in Huhne-gate

Ex-wife puts the blame on former minister as their court case over speeding points begins

The ex-wife of Chris Huhne will claim that she was "coerced" by the former Energy Secretary to take three penalty points on his behalf for a speeding offence when she stands trial later this year, a court heard yesterday.

Vicky Pryce, an economist, pleaded not guilty to a charge of perverting the course of justice and indicated that she would use a defence of "marital coercion" when the case came to court.

Mr Justice Saunders agreed with Oliver Glasgow, for the prosecution, that there would be no reason why the press should not be allowed to report details of Ms Pryce's defence.

Mr Glasgow said: "There is no secrecy the defence is marital coercion. I don't see that there is any prejudice caused to the prospect of a fair trial ... [if] it is reported she entered a not guilty plea and intends to advance a defence of marital coercion at trial."

Mr Huhne, 57, who sat in the dock alongside his former wife but staring straight ahead, with an empty chair between them, will try to have a similar charge against him dismissed at a later date, the court heard. His defence team is led by the prominent barrister John Kelsey-Fry, who successfully defended the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp earlier this year over accusations of tax evasion.

Mr Huhne, who was wearing a dark suit and tie, did not enter any plea during the hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London.

A conviction for perverting the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Mr Huhne, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, is accused of telling the authorities that Ms Pryce was behind the wheel when their car was caught on a speed camera between Stansted, Essex, and London in 2003. It meant that he was not prosecuted for the offence or liable for the fine. A complaint about the alleged driver-swap was made to Essex Police last year after Mr Huhne, who has five children, admitted having an affair with his public relations adviser and aide Carina Trimingham. The affair led to the end of the couple's 26-year marriage.

Mr Huhne remains the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh but he stood down from the Cabinet after the Crown Prosecution Service announced in February that he and his ex-wife would be charged. The pair arrived separately yesterday for the morning hearing in court No 3 which lasted for more than 30 minutes. They sat in the front row of the glass-panelled dock, with a female security officer sitting just behind them, and did not speak to each other during the course of the hearing.

They spoke only to confirm their names, and for Ms Pryce – who was listed in court by her Greek forename Vasiliki – to answer "not guilty" to the charge against her.

Ms Pryce, of Clapham, south London, and who wore a beige jacket and skirt, left after her former husband, accompanied by members of her legal team. She will be defended at trial by Clare Montgomery QC.

The pair were both given bail. A provisional trial date has been set for 2 October and the prosecution said that it was not expected to last longer than a fortnight.

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