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.

Related articles

Latest Stories

Yesterday, 15:03
Dynamo spotted by Steve Spencer

Fans of magician Dynamo were delighted by his latest trick: appearing to ‘levitate’ from The Shard near London Bridge.

Read more
Yesterday, 19:13
Undated handout photo issued by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home of Bless with Geoff and Sylvia Shoesmith, of Chelmsford, Essex. The mournful-looking stray which was thought to be putting potential adopters off with her hangdog expression has finally found a home.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday August 27, 2014. Bless was the most long-term resident at Battersea, with staff believing the lack of interest was down to the doleful dog's permanently sad expression. But following publicity, the Shoesmiths leapt at the chance to take the six-year-old in after being drawn to her loving personality and calm, kindly temperament.  See PA story ANIMALS Sad. Photo credit should read: Battersea Dogs & Cats Home /PA Wire

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

A frowning dog can wag her tail again after our plea to find her a new owner was a success!

Read more
Yesterday, 18:25
Lilian Jean Turner  was seen wearing a white blouse embroidered with flowers, black trousers and white sandals and also had a walking stick and holdall with her [Photograph from Metropolitan Police]

Police are increasingly worried about an 85-year-old woman who went missing in Penge on Wednesday morning.

Read more

Quirky London

Quizzes

I'm only going to say this once: Stand. On. The. Right.

James Bond is Britain’s most famous secret agent, and the capital is its most famous city, so it makes sense that 007 would live and work here when he isn’t gallivanting around the world.

Read more
Can you find the animals hiding in London station names? (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

You may not realise it but there are animals hiding in stations across London? Play our quiz and see if you can you find them:

Read more
Can you guess the Tube station just from the outside? (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

How well do you know your Tube stations? Can you guess these Underground stops from the pictures taken outside them?

Read more