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Defence of marital coercion used by Vicky Pryce to be abolished

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The defence of marital coercion, unsuccessfully used by Chris Huhne’s former wife Vicky Pryce at her trial last year, is to be abolished.

At present, English law provides a complete defence for a woman charged with a criminal offence other than treason or murder who can show that the offence was committed in the presence, and under the coercion of her husband.

The Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach has indicated the government’s support for an amendment to the antisocial behaviour, crime and policing bill repealing this provision of the Criminal Justice Act 1925. Peers are expected to approve the amendment during the bill’s report stage next week.

The defence is widely regarded as a relic of a bygone age. It can be used only by a woman married to a man.

Pryce unsuccessfully argued that it absolved her from criminal liability for lying about driving her then husband’s car when it was caught speeding. Many observers thought this was an extraordinary defence for any woman, let alone a former joint head of the government economic service. But the first jury that tried Pryce failed to agree on even a majority verdict, suggesting that some of its members were persuaded by the defence.

It is intended that abolition of the defence will take effect two months after the bill is passed by parliament. The general defence of duress will not be affected.

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