by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 4th 2013)
The downfall of British judge Constance Briscoe has been long overdue. Briscoe claimed to have hauled herself up from adversity to sit on the Bench – a role model for aspiring black lawyers? She now contemplates her spectacular fall from grace from a prison cell – sentenced to 16 months for her part in the perversion of justice committed by former Minister Chris Huhne and former wife, the economist wife Vicky Pryce.
Briscoe crimes have been well reported, but should it have ever come to this. Fifteen years ago the Bar Council failed to investigate whether she was fit to practice over several very serious allegations, including forging signatures. The astonishing thing was the complainant was Briscoe’s mother whom she sued for libel. Her allegations are now being investigated.
“Perjury strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system”, Mr Justice (Sir David) Maddison said when he jailed three witnesses who had lied in a notorious miscarriage of justice. Unlike Briscoe, Mark Grommek, Angela Psaila and Learnne Vilday had an excuse – a good one. They had browbeaten into telling the lies the police demanded of them.
Unlike Briscoe they had no real choice. Unlike Briscoe they had mitigation. The judge, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and even the police that investigated their perjury admitted that they had been bullied. They were subjected to conduct that was in Maddison’s words: “unacceptable in a civilised society”. They were denied a defence by an ass of a law that found this conduct unacceptable, but not duress. They perverted the course of justice, but unlike Briscoe only because justice had been perverted to force them to commit crimes against justice. The law that forced their convictions is archaic and unjust. In their situation virtually all of us would have done as they did, but unlike them Constance Briscoe freely chose her path
The New Cardiff Three were sent to jail for 18 months – two more than Briscoe who had no excuse and a year more than Huhne and Pryce – all of whom had privileged lives and no excuse. The New Cardiff Three really had rotten lives and were vulnerable to the abuse by the criminal justice system that overcame them. Briscoe claims she overcame serious adversity in her childhood – her family tell a different story. Years after the allegations of her being a fantasist and worse first surfaced, they are finally being investigated seriously. Briscoe may yet face further trials.
Unfit for Purpose
The CPS has had over a quarter of a century to overcome teething problems. But it remains unfit for purpose. It botched the prosecution of police officers over a notorious miscarriage of justice through utter incompetence. It refuses to take responsibility for an appalling job throughout the notorious Lynette White Inquiry – far from the only botched prosecution it has been responsible for. The sorry tale of that investigation and trial is detailed in Satish Sekar’s book (see below).
It prosecuted innocent men in spite of its Code for Crown Prosecutors, even having the chutzpah to justify the decision to prosecute by having secured convictions – now recognised as it should have been back then as one of Britain’s most notorious miscarriages of justice. It ignored the law when failing to appeal the outrageous leniency of the real killer’s tariff. Its performance in that case – and others too – has been a litany of gross failure.
It failed to appoint a Disclosure Officer in a case where it knew that the defendants – former police officers would seek to exploit disclosure obligations to undermine the trial. It refuses to account for the millions of public resources it has shamefully wasted, but it can prosecute people it accepts were bullied by those police officers and punish them alone for all the flaws its rotten performance in this case exemplifies.
The New Cardiff Three perjured themselves and perverted the course of justice, but unlike Briscoe they had no choice and the trial of those accused of forcing them to lie collapsed on an absurd technicality. Our concern is the conduct of the CPS. Judges being jailed for perjury is a rare occurrence – thankfully. Surely now there can be no confidence in her conduct on the Bench and indeed as a barrister.
However, the CPS – venal as ever – will not investigate whether she has contributed to miscarriages of justice during her career at the Bar and on the Bench, which lasted almost three decades. The CPS has issued a statement: “We have no plans to review cases involving Constance Briscoe as counsel”. Why not?