Call for greater research into juries after collapse of Vicky Pryce trial

10:50 21 February 2013

Vicky Pryce, accused of perverting the course of justice, leaves Southwark Crown Court after a jury failed to reach a verdict. Picture: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

Vicky Pryce, accused of perverting the course of justice, leaves Southwark Crown Court after a jury failed to reach a verdict. Picture: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

A retired lord chief justice and a former director of public prosecutions (DPP) have called for greater research into juries following the collapse of the trial of disgraced MP Chris Huhne’s ex-wife.

Vicky Pryce, of Crescent Grove, Clapham, faces a retrial after a jury described as suffering “absolutely fundamental deficits in understanding” failed to reach a verdict in her case.

The 60-year-old is accused of perverting the course of justice by taking her former husband’s speeding points in 2003.

Her retrial is due to start on Monday after the jury in the trial was discharged after saying it was “highly unlikely” it would reach even a majority verdict.

The jury trying Pryce submitted a series of 10 questions to the judge during their deliberations.

Mr Justice Sweeney said in 30 years he had never seen a situation like it after being presented with the list of questions after jurors spent nearly 14 hours considering the case.

They 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 defence?”

Discussing a possible solution, the judge said: “Quite apart from my concern as to the absolutely fundamental deficits in understanding which the questions demonstrate, I wonder, given that it is actually all there and has been there the whole time, the extent to which anything said by me is going to be capable of getting them back on track again.

“In well over 30 years of criminal trial I have never come across this at this stage, never.”

This morning former DPP Lord Macdonald of River Glaven told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We perhaps ought to allow a bit more access to jury reasoning than we do.

“I think it is impossible for researchers to conduct any kind of examination at any time into what has gone on in jury rooms. In other jurisdictions under controlled conditions researchers are allowed to question jurors, to come to some conclusions about the way they are deliberating and how the process works.

“If you have a better understanding of that then perhaps it’s easier to frame directions to juries that they will follow and understand.

“I don’t believe this is a general problem but I do think we should allow a bit more research into the way juries go about their tasks.”

Former lord chief justice Lord Woolf told Today: “I wouldn’t rush into doing anything, I would think about it. If there was anything that might help us to be reassured about the jury, Lord Macdonald’s put his finger on it.

“Some very carefully organised, responsible research may be a good thing, but it would have to be treated with great care.”

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said the jury of eight women and four men in the trial of Pryce did not appear to have “truly understood” or “sufficiently grasped” its task.

Former cabinet minister Huhne, who changed his plea to guilty on the first day of a joint trial with Pryce, will not be sentenced until her retrial is complete, the court heard.

During the trial at Southwark Crown Court, Pryce claimed a defence of marital coercion, claiming Huhne forced her to take speeding points for him nearly a decade ago, in 2003.

He was caught speeding on his way back from Stansted Airport and thought he would lose his licence, threatening his chances of being nominated to run as the Lib Dem candidate for Eastleigh, Hampshire.

He went on to win the seat - despite being banned from driving that year anyway for another offence - but resigned as an MP after his change of plea.

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