Former Government Minister Chris Huhne and ex-wife sentenced


Last month, former Government Minister Chris Huhne pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice; his wife was convicted of the same offence after two trials. This afternoon, they were sentenced.

Many a politician including government ministers and higher have fallen from grace in spectacular fashion. Some have had their hands in the till; some, like President Richard Nixon, have been implicated in spy scandals. Some have even ended up with blood on their hands, but few have lost their posts, their reputations, their good names and their freedom over something as trivial and spectacularly insignificant as driving a few miles per hour above the speed limit.

Of course, that is not the whole story, it was what he did next, and after that, that brought Mr Huhne down: persuading his wife to take the rap, then trading her in for a younger model. And of course his now ex-wife, was so intent in spiting his face that she willingly cut off her own nose taking her story to not one but two national newspapers and roping in her friend Constance Briscoe into the bargain, trashing her chance of becoming the first black woman in Britain to be appointed a High Court judge.

The court listing for the sentencing hearing of Chris Huhne and his ex-wife. The reporting restrictions were probably because he pleaded guilty while she did not.

Huhne changed his plea to guilty at the last minute; she, on the other hand, elected to take her chance with a not guilty plea on the grounds of marital duress. That may have worked for a none too bright housewife tied down by her apron strings, but not for a chief economist, a visiting professor, and a woman who describes herself as a fiery Greek at that.

With few exceptions, cameras are not allowed in English courtrooms, although the BBC ran a live stream at the sentencing for which there was something of a media frenzy.

Huhne was the first to be sentenced, receiving eight months. A few minutes later, the former Mrs Huhne received the same. Huhne’s elderly father was among those watching the proceedings. In mitigation for him it was said he had worked tirelessly for his constituents and was a real man of the people – at least that was the verdict of a letter that was read out on his behalf from someone in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, it is not that verdict that counts.

Julian Knowles QC urged that his client Vicky Pryce be given a suspended sentence, but of course that was never on the menu.

The two sat apart and staring straight ahead as Mr Justice Sweeney addressed the former couple and partners-in-crime.

Pryce he said had “sought to manipulate and control the press so as to achieve your dual objective” of bringing down her ex-husband without implicating herself, a clearly impossible feat. Huhne had tried to lie his way out of trouble time and time again while the jury had the sense to see through her (the second jury anyway). In addition to the sentence, there will also be a costs hearing for Huhne, who is likely to be penalised severely for attempting to wriggle out of the case and thereby adding to the time and cost of the whole package.

They will be out for the warm weather as things stand, but for Chris Huhne, this will be a time for him to take stock and reflect. Although prison is not a joyride, the real punishment for him something far worse, as he, the judge and indeed everyone else who has followed this half-Greek tragedy understands too well.

[The above op-ed was first published March 11, 2013.]

Back To Digital Journal Index