Chris Huhne’s former wife faces a retrial after a jury described by a judge as suffering “absolutely fundamental deficits in understanding” failed to reach a verdict in her case.
Vicky Pryce, 60, will stand trial again for perverting the course of justice as early as next week, after the jury at Southwark Crown Court was discharged yesterday after saying it was “highly unlikely” it would reach even a majority verdict.
Mr Justice Sweeney said that in 30 years he had never seen a situation like it, after being presented with a list of ten questions by the jurors on Tuesday, after nearly 14 hours of deliberations.
The questions included: “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?”
Discussing a possible solution, the judge said: “Quite apart from my concern as to the absolutely fundamental deficits in understanding which the questions demonstrate, I wonder, given that it is actually all there and has been there the whole time, the extent to which anything said by me is going to be capable of getting them back on track.
“In well over 30 years of criminal trial, I have never come across this at this stage, never.”
Prosecutor Andrew Edis, QC, said the jury of eight women and four men did not appear to have “truly understood” or “sufficiently grasped” its task.
“I don’t ever recollect getting to this stage in any trial, even in far more complicated trials than this one, and after two days of deliberations a list of questions of this very basic kind, illustrating that at least some jurors do not seem to have grasped it,” he said.
“This is not a classic case of jury irregularity or misconduct. This is, in my experience a fairly unique situation, where, after a short and legally simple case, a jury has, after a long – perhaps disproportionately long – retirement sent out a note containing nine questions which are aimed at attempting to understand the fundamental purpose of their presence. This is not jury misconduct, this is not irregularity, this is a jury which has not, it appears, understood its function.
“This kind of list of questions after two days of deliberations in a short case is unparalleled in my experience and requires what is undoubtedly an unusual approach.”
Mr Justice Sweeney yesterday gave the jury lengthy directions in an effort to answer their questions, but less than two hours later they said it was “highly unlikely” they would reach a verdict and were discharged.
Pryce, 60, of Clapham, south London, now faces a retrial, possibly beginning as early as next week.
Huhne, who dramatically changed his plea to guilty to a charge of perverting the course of justice, on the first day of a joint trial with Pryce, has resigned as a Liberal Democrat MP.
He will not be sentenced until the retrial is complete, the court heard.
During the trial at Southwark Crown Court, Pryce claimed a defence of marital coercion, claiming Huhne had forced her to take speeding points on her driving licence for him nearly a decade ago, in 2003.
The former energy secretary had been caught speeding on his way back from Stansted Airport and thought he would lose his licence, threatening his chances of being nominated to run as the Lib Dem candidate for Eastleigh, Hampshire.
He went on to win the seat – despite having been banned from driving that year anyway, for another offence.
The points-swapping allegation only became public in May 2011, when it was published in two Sunday newspapers – nearly a year after Huhne confessed that he was having an affair with PR adviser Carina Trimingham, ending his 26-year marriage.
During the trial, it emerged that Pryce – once a top economist for the government – had spent months trying to reveal the scandal to the press so that she could “nail” Huhne, 58, after he left her for Ms Trimingham in June 2010.