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Vicky Pryce and the Usefulness of the Not Proven Verdict

22 February 2013

6:23 PM

22 February 2013

6:23 PM

Like John Rentoul, I think much of the scoffing and chortling at the expense of the poor jury asked to consider Vicky Pryce’s guilt (or innocence!) is misplaced. This was an unusual case. The questions* they asked – which have been much mocked – seem entirely reasonable to me. More than that, they’re quite intelligent. “Reasonable doubt” for instance is not necessarily an obvious thing to measure or define.

As for their conduct demonstrating that the Great British public is incapable of jury service, well, phooey to that. In any case, in both the legal systems that apply on these islands, the vast majority of trials do not involve juries at all. We do not actually believe juries are necessarily necessary for criminal proceedings.

If any conclusion may – tentatively – be drawn from this affair then I suggest it is that the English legal system could profit from an extra verdict. I have no idea whether the jury could have reached a verdict of Not Proven, of course.

The third verdict is sometimes criticised in Scotland but I think it has its uses.

*For the record, these were the questions asked:

You have defined the defence of marital coercion at page 5 and also explained what does not fall within the definition by way of examples.
Please expand upon the definition (specifically “will was overborne”), provide examples of what may fall within the defence, and does this defence require violence or physical threats.
In the scenario where the defendant may be guilty but there is not enough evidence provided by the prosecution at the material time of when she signed the NIP (between 3 and 7 May 2003) to feel sure beyond reasonable doubt what should the verdict be = not guilty or unable/unsafe to provide a verdict?
If there is debatable evidence supporting the prosecution’s case, can inferences be drawn to arrive at a verdict? If so, inferences/speculation on the full evidence or only where you have directed us to do so (eg circumstantial evidence, lies, failure by VP to mention facts to the police).
Can you define what is reasonable doubt?
Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or defence?
Can we infer anything from the fact that the defence didn’t bring witnesses from the time of the offence, such as au pair, neighbours?
Does the defendant have an obligation to present a defence?
Can we speculate about the events at the time VP signed the form or what was in her mind at that time?
Your Honour, the jury is considering the facts provided but have continued to ask the questions raised by the police. Given the case has come to court without answers to the police’s questions, please advise on which facts in the bundle the jury shall consider to determine a not guilty or guilty verdict.
Would religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling that she had no choice ie she promised to obey her husband in her wedding vows and he had ordered her to do something and she felt she had to obey?


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