Vicky Pryce trial: Q: 'Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it?'

... and nine other questions posed by the jury before the judge decided to order a retrial

The judge in the trial of Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of the disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, lamented the jury’s “fundamental deficits of understanding” as they were discharged for failing to reach a verdict.

Mr Justice Sweeney said he had never in his 30-year legal career come across a situation where jurors expressed bafflement about such key issues of a case so late in a trial. Ms Pryce now faces a re-trial next week.

The eight men and four women had asked the judge 10 “very basic” questions about the case – and then on the fourth day of deliberation said that they were unable to decide if the economist was guilty or innocent of perverting the course of justice.

The questions included: “Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it either from the prosecution or the defence?”

A second question read: “Can you define what is reasonable doubt?”

The judge told the jurors that “a reasonable doubt is a doubt which is reasonable. These are ordinary English words that the law doesn’t allow me to help you with beyond reasonable written directions.”

Huhne had pleaded guilty on 4 February to the charge of passing his penalty points for speeding to his then wife to avoid a driving ban, and resigned his seat as an MP. He was told by the charge that “you should have no illusions whatsoever as to the sort of sentence that you are likely to receive”.

Ms Pryce, 60, accepted that she took the points but denied the charge, claiming she only did so because she was bullied into it.

The planned new trial is just the latest twist in a long-running saga that dates back to May 2003, when Huhne’s car was caught by a speed camera on the M11 as the then-MEP returned home from Strasbourg.

The judge had been asked by prosecutors on Tuesday whether or not it was safe to continue with the trial after receiving the questions from the jury.

Mr Justice Sweeney said that the questions demonstrated “absolutely fundamental deficits of understanding” after hours of deliberations.

He added: “After well over 30 years of criminal trials, I have never come across this at this stage.”

On the third day of their deliberations, the jury had sent 10 questions as they grappled with the case.

The QC for the prosecution, Andrew Edis, questioned whether the case could continue. “I don’t ever recollect getting to this stage in any trial – even for more complicated trials than this – and after two days of retirement a list of questions of this very basic kind illustrating at least some jurors don’t appear to have grasped it,” he said.

The judge ruled that the trial would continue and then spent an hour answering their questions, which included “Can we speculate about the events at the time Ms Pryce signed the form or what was in her mind at that time?” – the answer was no – and “Would religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling that she had no choice ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows” – where the judge pointed out that religion had not been a factor in the prosecution or defence.

Mr Justice Sweeney insisted: “I must direct you firmly to focus on the real issues in this case and thereby to reach a true verdict according to the evidence.”

After hearing the answers, the jury returned less than two hours later and said it was “highly unlikely” they would be able to agree a verdict.

Ms Pryce told the court that she signed the forms nominating herself as the driver after coming under intense pressure from Huhne, who was concerned about the damage to his reputation during his campaign for the nomination to a winnable Westminster seat.

The allegation about the speeding points only became public in 2011 after Ms Pryce spent months talking with the press in an attempt to “nail” Huhne after he left her for a younger woman in 2010, the court heard.

She told the jury she wanted to expose his true character to the public after he rose to a Cabinet position.

Ms Pryce claimed that she only took the points after being ground down by her husband, who told her that she would be responsible if he did not win the seat for Eastleigh after two failed election attempts in other seats.

The judge said Ms Pryce’s claim that she was coerced into signing the police forms was the “critical issue” in the case and gave the jury two “ultimate questions” to consider, to decide her guilt or her innocence.

Huhne will be sentenced at a later date.

Question time: What the jury asked the judge

These are the 10 questions asked by the jury in the Vicky Pryce trial before they failed to come to a verdict. The answers of Mr Justice  Sweeney have been edited:

Jury: Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it either from the prosecution or the defence?

Mr Justice Sweeney: The answer to that question is firmly no. That is because it would be completely contrary to the directions I have given.

J: Can we speculate about the events at the time Ms Pryce signed the form or what was in her mind at that time?

MJS: The answer to that is an equally firm no… There is a difference between speculation, which is not permitted, and inference. Inference is drawing common sense conclusions of which you are sure from facts on which you are also sure.

J: If there is debatable evidence supporting the prosecution’s case, can inferences be drawn to arrive at a verdict? If so, inferences/speculation on the full evidence or only where you have directed us to do so (eg circumstantial evidence, lies, failure by Ms Pryce to mention facts to the police).

MJS: The drawing of inference is a permissible process; speculation is not.

J: Can we infer anything from the fact that the defence didn’t bring witnesses from the time of the events such as au pair, neighbours?

MJS: You must not infer anything from the absence of witnesses.

J: Does the defendant have an obligation to present a defence?

MJS: It’s for the prosecution to prove the case… There’s no burden on the defence to prove anything.

J: Can you define what is reasonable doubt?

MJS: A reasonable doubt is a doubt which is reasonable. These are ordinary English words that the law doesn’t allow me to help you with beyond reasonable written directions.

J: You have defined the defence of marital coercion at page five and also explained what does not fall within the definition by way of examples. Please expand on the definition (specifically “will was overborne”) Provide examples of what may fall within the defence and does this defence require violence and physical threats?

MJS: The law recognises, via the defence of marital coercion, that a wife is morally blameless if she committed an offence only because her husband was present and coerced her, that is, put pressure on her to commit the offence in such a way that her will was overborne – that she was impelled to commit the offence because she truly believed she had no real choice but to do so… The words are relatively straightforward English words which the law doesn’t permit me to go beyond further.

J: Would religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling that she had no choice, ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows and he had ordered her to do something and she felt that she had to obey?

MJS: This is not, with respect, a question about this case at all. Ms Pryce doesn’t say that any such reasoning formed any part of her decision to do what she did. And the answer to this question will therefore not help you. I must direct you firmly to focus on the real issues in this case and thereby to reach a true verdict according to the evidence.

J: The jury is considering the facts provided but have continued to ask the questions raised by the police. Given the case has come to court without answers to the police’s questions, please advise on which facts in the bundle the jury shall consider to determine a not guilty or guilty verdict.

MJS: You decide the case on the evidence. It’s for you to review all of the evidence and decide which of it you consider to be important, truthful and reliable, and then decide what conclusions – commonsense conclusions – you can safely draw. It’s not part of my function, because I’m the judge of the law (not, as you are, the judges of the facts), to tell you which piece or pieces of evidence are important and which are not.

J: In the scenario where the defendant may be guilty but there is not enough evidence provided by the prosecution at the material time of when she signed the notice of intended prosecution (between 3rd and 7th May 2003) to feel sure beyond reasonable doubt, what should the verdict be – not guilty or unable/unsafe to provide a verdict?

MJS: If having carefully considered all the evidence at least 10 of you felt sure of the guilt of the defendant, then it would be your duty to return a verdict of guilty. On the other hand, if after such careful consideration at least 10 of you were left feeling less than sure of the guilt of the defendant, it would be your duty to return a verdict of not guilty.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?