Constance Briscoe avoids £89,000 in costs for perverting course of justice
High court makes no order for costs in wake of Briscoe’s trial over Chris Huhne speeding points scandal after hearing that she is penniless and £150,000 in debt
One of Britain’s first black female judges has avoided paying thousands of pounds after her trial for lying to police investigating the Chris Huhne speeding points scandal.
In January, Constance Briscoe’s financial affairs were laid bare when the prosecution applied for her to pay £89,246.33 in costs for the first of her two trials for the same offence.
Her lawyer told a high court judge at the Old Bailey that she was now penniless and £150,000 in debt to HMRC since she was jailed for perverting the course of justice.
Giving his ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Baker made no order for costs, given the circumstances of her case.
The court had previously heard how Briscoe was being supported by her 26-year-old son, who bailed her out financially by buying her flat and settling her overdraft.
Her lawyer, Patrick Gibbs, had described her current income as zero and said she has been living with her son and 24-year-old daughter but has not claimed benefits.
He said that since her conviction she had not worked or found any improvement in her financial prospects.
She sold her £650,000 flat to her son so it could be remortgaged to 90% of the value on an interest-only deal to raise £159,000.
The money went to pay her legal fees from the first trial plus an outstanding tax bill of £92,000 but she still had outstanding VAT and income tax bills totalling some £150,000, he said.
Her son also paid off the overdraft on her bank account, which was closed down while she was serving her sentence in June last year, Gibbs said.
Following a retrial last May, Briscoe, of Clapham, south London, was jailed for 16 months after being found guilty of trying to pervert the course of justice over the investigation in to how disgraced MP Huhne passed speeding points to his then wife Vicky Pryce a decade earlier.
Sentencing her, Mr Justice Baker said at the time: “I am only too conscious that your convictions mark a personal tragedy for both you and your children. You are an individual who unsurprisingly has been something of a role model to others.”
The 57-year-old was jailed for twice the length of time handed to Huhne and Pryce, after it emerged that she had helped economist Pryce, a friend and also her neighbour, to reveal information about Huhne’s points-swapping to newspapers after the couple split in 2010.
The following month the part-time judge’s fall from grace continued as she was removed from judicial office.
Last May, former cabinet minister Huhne was ordered to pay £77,750 for the cost of his prosecution while Pryce was ordered to pay £49,200.
Prosecutors claimed more than £100,000 from Huhne, who pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial in February 2013, after months of denials and protracted attempts to get the case against him thrown out.
Both he and Pryce, who was convicted by a jury, have served their prison sentences for perverting the course of justice when she took speeding points for her then husband in 2003.
After Briscoe’s conviction, Huhne, who was forced to resign as an MP, described her as “a compulsive and self-publicising fantasist”, adding: “British justice is likely to be a lot fairer with Briscoe behind bars.”
In May last year, barrister Constance Briscoe, 57, was given a 16-month sentence after being found guilty at the Old Bailey of trying to pervert the course of justice over the investigation into how the former Cabinet minister passed points to his then wife Vicky Pryce a decade earlier.
Briscoe was jailed after it emerged that she had helped economist Pryce, a friend and neighbour, to reveal information about Huhne’s points-swapping to newspapers after the couple split in 2010.
The following month, the part-time judge’s fall continued as she was removed from judicial office.
On Wednesday, Lord Justice Davis, Mr Justice Supperstone and Judge Martyn Zeidman refused Briscoe permission to appeal against her conviction or to produce fresh expert computer forensic evidence.
She claimed this would show there was a possible innocent explanation for differences between two witness statements she had provided and this would cast doubt on the safety of her conviction.
But the judges at the court of appeal said no reasonable explanation had been given for the failure to produce such evidence at her trial if it was thought it would assist the defence and, in any case, other possibilities were alluded to and left to the jury.
“Having considered all the material before us, our conclusion is that there is no proper basis for receiving this proposed fresh evidence in the interests of justice. Such evidence, if relied on, could, with reasonable diligence, have been produced at trial.
“Further, and more importantly, we consider that it affords no ground for allowing the appeal.”
Briscoe, who the judges heard has been left penniless, was ordered to pay £3,000 costs but it will be up to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to enforce the order.