Earlier today the former wife of former minister and former MP, Chris Huhne, was convicted of perverting the course of justice after the failure of her defence of marital coercion.
The failure of that defence is no great shock. To succeed the wife must convince a jury that she was so completely under the control of her husband at the time that she had no free will and no choice but to obey her husband. It is a defence that made sense when it was introduced in a time when women had practically no rights and were expected to obey their husbands in all things. In the modern world it is a defence that will succeed only in the most extreme circumstances. It is probably time for this archaic defence to be removed from the statute book.
What is more interesting, from a criminal lawyers point of view, about this case is the rank of counsel instructed.
Like all Lord Chancellors, the current inhabitant of the office was appointed because of his lengthy experience of our legal system and his thorough understanding not only of the law but also of the courts and processes by which justice is achieved. Hang on.. sorry... now I think about it that's total bollocks. He has no idea about the law, legal system or anything else so far as I can tell.
In Mr Grayling's expert opinion senior lawyers should not be available to the sort of oik who receives legal aid. I suppose the reasoning must be that if they want the best then they should pay... why should "ordinaries" receive the top-level of lawyer available? Obviously he didn't say that. He claimed that junior counsel are just as good and that most QC's are over the hill any way. He made the point that a junior a month away from taking Silk is just as good the month before he or she becomes Queen's Counsel and they cost half the price. That makes sense, if only there were a pool of junior counsel constantly a month away from taking Silk. For obvious reasons there isn't such a pool.
Since our esteemed Lord Chancellor believes that even murder cases should be using junior counsel in place of QC's I was surprised to see Chris Hunhe and Ms Pryce (sorry I can't recall her first name and I refuse to waste my time looking it up) were being prosecuted by a QC. Was the CPS lawyer who instructed Counsel not aware that a junior a month away from taking Silk is just as good but only half the price? Did the Lord Chancellor not drive home the importance of not using Silks to the Director of Public Prosecutions? Incidentally, the DPP is paid significantly more than most legal aid lawyers. I can't be the only one thinking that the head of the CPS could just as easily be a junior lawyer as a QC, which is what Keir Starmer is. They could save millions over the entirety of his tenure in the top job. I hope therefore that we will see Mr Starmer ousted from his cushy job, for which Mr Grayling must believe he is greatly over-qualified.
Returning to the Huhne's (former and current), the case was historic and not very complicated. It presented no significant challenges out of the ordinary for that type of case that I can see. So, why did the CPS instruct a QC? The answer is surely because, as the commercial bar readily admit, the reputation of the criminal bar around the world acts as a great driver for legal tourism to the UK, which is very big business with over-seas companies and oligarchs choosing to settle their differences in London's courts. Grayling, Starmer, et al do not want the UK to look bad in front of the world's press.
Let's be clear. The reason Grayling and co want to prevent defendants receiving representation from QC's is not because they want to save money. I am informed that so far there have been a number of murders handled by junior counsel that have gone bad necessitating retrials with QC's instructed. These cases cost more than double the price of simply instructing Silks from the start! The reason Grayling and friends is pushing this nonsense is a) they want to look like they are cutting back on spending on criminals; and b) they no doubt hope that by using less experienced and less senior advocates they will get better conviction rates. As usual it's a case of politicians trying to look like they are doing something rather than them actually doing it.