Editorial: Sorry, Vicky Pryce, your unsuccessful plea proves marital coercion is no defence

This sad case stands as a warning, but the lessons are mainly for private reflection

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Given the great misery already suffered by the family of Vicky Pryce, we are reluctant to comment on the guilty verdict handed down by jurors yesterday. The case stands as a terrible warning against, first, the compromises sought by ambition and, second, the escalation of revenge. It was a tragic morality tale of two people, once close, tearing each other apart – and the lessons are mostly for private reflection.

Yet there were also questions of public policy at stake. Specifically, the defence of marital coercion – which Ms Pryce unsuccessfully pleaded – should have no place in the British legal system. It dates from 1925 and is one of those laws that should have been cleared out long ago, in one of the occasional drives to take rules reflecting old inequalities off the statute book.

First, marital coercion is a defence not available to men. Second, it is simultaneously both patronising to women, and – if successful – a licence to evade personal responsibility. Prosecuting counsel Andrew Edis should not have been reduced to arguing that Ms Pryce was a “woman who had spent her life making important choices”, as if such a defence might be justified were the defendant not an economist who was regularly on television. Marital coercion is, rightly, rarely used. The Pryce trial makes it clear it is time to scrap it altogether.

Then there is the question of the widespread practice of passing off penalty points for traffic offences. It is often suggested that speeding offences are victimless crimes, that sharing points is something that “everyone does” and that speed cameras are simply a device to raise revenue. Wrong on every count. Indeed, death on the road is directly correlated with the speed at which the car is travelling. It is up to the Government to do more to make enforcement certain.

Even if the original crime were trivial – which we do not accept – any attempt to pervert the course of justice must be treated severely. Heart-rending though the personal cost of the Pryce case has been, justice has been done.

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