Letter from the Crime Correspondent: Calling the powerful to account


Click to follow
The Independent Online


The successful prosecutions of three powerful people should be considered a triumph.  Their high profiles – former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, economist Vicky Pryce and judge Constance Briscoe – bring added public humiliation.

But coming on the same day that the Government justified cutting legal aid by citing the high cost of England’s legal system, the drawn-out and expensive saga that arose from a marital dispute and a speeding fine raises difficult questions about justice and who can afford it.

In many ways, the cases of R vs Huhne and others have been anomalies. There were four trials: two for Vicky Pryce after a jury’s inability to grasp its job, and two for Briscoe after a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the first trial. Numerous hearings before the trials slowly unravelled the lies of Briscoe – who until then was the main prosecution witness in the case of Huhne and Pryce – and resulted in her own appearance in the dock, yesterday’s conviction and today’s “almost inevitable” jailing.

Their barristers were premier league. But at the same court where Huhne threw in the towel and pleaded guilty a year ago, five men accused of fraud walked free yesterday after changes to the legal aid system meant that a judge ruled they could not secure proper representation to fight their cases.

Any satisfaction that the powerful can be called to account is tempered by concerns of legal campaigners that justice has been outpriced.