The Jury is out in the Vicky Pryce trial

ah-442-h&sThe new jury of seven men and five women have retired to consider their verdict in the now infamous Vicky Pryce retrial.

Ms Pryce, the former wife of disgraced ex cabinet minister Chris Huhne, has pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice. Ms Pryce is accused of taking speeding points for her ex-husband. She claims that Mr Huhne coerced her into accepting the points.

The first jury was discharged after its members failed to comprehend the nature of what was being asked of them. The Judge ordered a retrial with a new jury, who were warned ‘not to leave their common sense’ behind (unlike the last jurors). The current jury are still deliberating and are expected to return their verdict later this week.

However, what appears to have been forgotten in the media frenzy is that the fundamental role of a jury is to determine guilt on the facts. It is the role of the Judge and the Legal Counsel in the case to explain the law to the jury in a way which is accessible and allows its members to carry out their duty. But what is the lesson to be learnt from this saga?

Should jurors be required to take a literacy test, as has been suggested in the media?  Has there been a failure of the legal profession in the Pryce case? Furthermore, when research suggests that only 3 out of 10 jurors understand legal directions from a Judge, is it time to consider an alternative to trial by jury?

Lastly, the cost to the taxpayer of this retrial will run into hundreds of thousands of pounds (on top of the many, many thousands of pounds of public money which has already been incurred). There has been a suggestion that the cost of the first trial was in the region of £5 million. However, current guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service fails to list the costs of a retrial as a factor a Judge should take into account when deciding whether to order a retrial in the event of a jury failing to reach a verdict.

This expenditure all comes at a time when a shortage of public funding has led to radical changes in legal aid – which have even been publically criticised by the most senior Judge in the country.

When complaints are rife about access to justice being denied to those who cannot afford legal representation, is it really appropriate for a costly retrial at the public’s expense, and is it symptomatic of wider issues with the justice system?

Aimee Hutchinson
Solicitor
Commercial Dispute Resolution http://www.lawblacks.com/Business/CommercialDisputeResolution.aspx
0113 227 9203

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