Former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne, 58, has pleaded guilty to the charge of perverting the course of justice.
In 2003, Huhne’s car was caught by a speed camera on the motorway between Stanstead Airport and London. It was alleged that his wife, Vicky Pryce, falsely informed police that she was the driver of the vehicle so that Huhne would avoid prosecution and the mandatory penalty points on his driving licence.
After a lengthy investigation, Huhne and Pryce were charged last February.
What is perverting the course of justice?
It is a common law offence (not defined by statute) triable only at the Crown Court. The maximum sentence is life imprisonment – however in reality sentences are in the order of months or years.
The offence concerns activity which interferes with the administration of justice. It will be necessary to show that Hune and Price (separately) did an act or acts which tended to pervert the course of justice and in doing so, intended that justice would be perverted.
It covers a wide range of activity, from false rape complaints, interference with witnesses, and concealing evidence.
Here we are concerned with behaviour designed to avoid prosecution or conviction.
Aggravating features include:
- Nature and number of offences
- Whether premeditated or spontaneous
- Degree of persistence
- Arrest of innocent person
- Innocent person maliciously targeted
- Any impact upon prosecution
Looking at those factors, Huhne can rightly be rather nervous about the eventual sentence he will receive.
Huhne has pleaded guilty on the day of trial. As is common practice, he is likely to receive credit for doing so. It is typical that defendants who plead ‘at the door of the court’ receive 10% credit – or discount – from the sentence they would have got had they been convicted at trial. For a full explanation of credit for pleading guilty, click here.
The question one may ask is why he didn’t plead earlier.
Sentences for this type of offence are likely to be measured in years (usually 2 or 3). Of course, it is necessary to properly reflect all the facts of the case and with the information provided in the press, it is fairly safe to say Chris Huhne is looking at an immediate custodial sentence (the Court of Appeal have said that this offence should always lead to a custodial sentence ‘in all but the most exceptional circumstances’), notwithstanding his good character and late plea of guilty.