Alice Philipson, Telegraph (London), May 2, 2014
Constance Briscoe, Britain’s most senior black woman judge, has been sentenced to 16 months in jail after being found guilty at the Old Bailey of lying to police investigating the Chris Huhne speeding points scandal.
Briscoe, of Clapham, South London, was found guilty of trying to pervert the course of justice in connection with the investigation into how disgraced cabinet minister Mr Huhne passed speeding points to his then-wife Vicky Pryce a decade ago.
Jailing her, judge Mr Justice Baker told Briscoe that if she and Pryce shared anything in common it was “arrogance by educated individuals who considered respect for the law was for others”.
He said the conviction was a “personal tragedy” for a woman who had been “something of a role model for others”.
The 56-year-old had been suspended since her arrest in October 2012 and could now be barred from sitting as a judge.
The judge said: “Constance Briscoe you are the third individual to be convicted of criminal offences arising out of a saga whose origin arises from 2003 when both Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce lied about who had been driving a speeding motor vehicle.”
He said Briscoe hid her true motives for her involvement and then compounded the position in 2011 by “deliberately fabricating evidence when you thought you would be exposed”.
He also spoke of her achivements, which saw her become the first person in her family to go to university and a part-time judge.
“Although blessed with intelligence you did not have every advantage in life. However, you worked hard at school and were the first person in your family to go to university.”
He said the defendant went on to be given the privilege of being a part-time judge while “raising your two much-loved children”.
But said he: “You were motivated, as was Vicky Pryce, by a joint desire to ensure the downfall of Chris Huhne.
“I’m sure that you realise only too well that this conduct strikes at the heart of our much-cherished criminal justice system.”
He sentenced Briscoe to four, five and seven months for the three counts, totalling 16 months in jail.
Mr Justice Baker said he had taken account of her previous good character and the “devastating effect” of the conviction on her career in deciding sentence.
Briscoe’s jail sentence was double that of Huhne and Pryce.
Following her conviction it emerged she is also facing a criminal investigation into allegations she fraudulently obtained documents used to defend libel claims brought against her by her own mother, Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, who sat in the court throughout her daughter’s Old Bailey trial.
An Old Bailey jury found Briscoe guilty of all three counts of intending to pervert the course of justice after five hours of deliberations.
After the verdict, Mr Huhne, who was forced to resign over the speeding points scandal, released a statement in which he described Briscoe as a “compulsive and self-publicising fantasist”.
He declared: “British justice is likely to be a lot fairer with Briscoe behind bars.”
Detective Inspector John McDermott, of Kent Police, also welcomed the verdict, saying it showed no-one was “above the law”.
And the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) announced it would be preparing a report on whether Briscoe should be removed from the judiciary.
Briscoe was unanimously found guilty on all charges.
The first alleged that, between May 16 2011 and October 6 2012, Briscoe provided police with two inaccurate statements, and the second that on October 6 2012 she produced an altered copy of a statement but claimed it was the correct version.
A third charge alleged that between October 5 2012 and October 8 last year she deliberately got a document expert to view the wrong version of her witness statement.
Briscoe stood trial for a second time after a jury at Southwark Crown Court failed to reach verdicts.
The Old Bailey trial heard that Briscoe helped economist Ms Pryce, who was a friend and also her neighbour, to reveal information about Mr Huhne’s points-swapping to newspapers after the couple split in 2010.
The scandal led to Mr Huhne’s resignation and subsequent prosecution.
He pleaded guilty in February last year, while Ms Pryce was convicted after a trial.
Both have now served jail sentences.
When the allegations emerged in 2011, Briscoe made a witness statement to police on May 31 that year claiming Ms Pryce confided in her in 2003 after she found out that Mr Huhne had asked her to take his speeding points, portraying herself as an “independent and objective” witness.
In a second statement on August 16 2012 she denied having any contact with journalists or newspapers about the story but emails obtained by court order ahead of the Huhne-Pryce trial showed that Briscoe had spoken to journalists.
Once her involvement was revealed, Briscoe was dropped as a witness in Huhne and Pryce’s trial and she was arrested in October 2012.
The jury heard that Briscoe was intent on bringing about Mr Huhne’s downfall and knew how to manipulate the criminal justice system to her advantage.
It was claimed that she misled police in her witness statements.
It was also alleged that she deliberately gave police an altered copy of one of the statements into which she had inserted an extra “I” to change the meaning to suggest she had refused to speak to journalists about the story–only for emails handed over by newspapers to prove she had been in touch with reporters.
The third charge alleged that Briscoe then deliberately handed a different copy of the altered statement to an expert so he would find that the alteration was due to a printer malfunction.
The defendant denied deliberately misleading police, saying it was always clear she had spoken to journalists by the fact her name was used in newspaper stories about the speeding points scandal.