The “Vicky Pryce” defence to be abolished? Married women to be credited with minds of their own Shock Horror.
The 2013 case involving the trials and imprisonments of the ex-MP Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce brought into the spotlight the legal defence afforded by section 47 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 of “coercion of married women by husband”. Her plea was – in essence – “He forced me to do it”
The anomalies of this defence viewed through modern eyes are that
* This defence is available ONLY to a married woman who is able to show that she committed a criminal offence because her husband forced her to do it. (And in today’s context no-one knows what FORCED means. Arguably it used to mean TOLD her to do it, in days when a woman’s living depended entirely upon the goodwill of her husband).
* It is NOT available to a married man “forced” to offend by his wife nor
* To either party in a same-sex relationship. Nor
* To a women who has lived with, but not married, a dominant man for whatever period of time.
These anomalies now seem to be out of date. Most women would now consider it ludicrous that, whether or not married, their husband’s will should ever override their own, still less be presumed to do so as a matter of law.
It seems that the defence will shortly be abolished – Lord Taylor of Hall Beach has supported on behalf of the government a proposal by Lord Pannick QC to abolish the defence and to repeal section 47 of the Act. [Do note, that there is still the defence of duress if anyone commits a crime because of threats of death or really serious physical harm.]
Having looked up Section 47 of the Act, my particular interest in it is to note the wording of the 1925 legislation. It states that for any offence other than treason or murder it should be a good defence to prove that an offence was committed under the coercion of a husband, AND:-
In particular, it abolishes the previous law which, if you can believe it, was that ANY offence committed by a wife in the physical presence of her husband would automatically be deemed to be no offence by her at all.
Before 1925 therefore it appears that the law considered that a women who was present with her husband, could have no mind of her own whatsoever. A very graphic illustration of the Victorian mind-set – if somewhat bad news for the law abiding husband of a criminal wife. Presumably he would have had to go to jail because of her crimes – that is, for not controlling her!
Changes come slowly but they do come.