Rebecca Silcock: A bitter marriage break-up played out in public
Vicky Pryce has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice. Accused of taking three speeding points for disgraced cabinet minister Chris Huhne, while he was a serving MEP, she used a little known defence, marital coercion. Rebecca Silcock, who specialises in family law at Mogers solicitors in Bath, explores the twists and turns of the case...
Many of us looked up to Vicky Pryce when she and Chris Huhne separated in 2010. She was a mother of five, a grandmother, and had a career history most of us dream about.
She held her tongue and when she eventually gave an interview it was measured and not bitter. This was despite being left by her husband of 25 years for his PR advisor some 12 years his junior, who in turn, had left her “civil partner to be” for Chris Huhne.
Well, how things have changed.
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In the public glare of the media we have seen how this image has been twisted in a turn of events that couldn’t have been predicted.
In court Vicky was portrayed as a bitter ex-wife who wanted to nail her husband and bring him down. He has been portrayed as ambitious at all costs, but has now lost his seat in Parliament and is highly likely to be facing a jail term.
Their children have been drawn in with their texts read in court and quoted in the papers.
In another unusual twist Vicky Pryce, the strong career woman who took only weeks off after the birth of her children, relied on the defence of marital coercion.
A defence, it seems, almost unheard of. A defence even the jury found so difficult to comprehend, the first was dismissed due to their “deficit of understanding”.
What is marital coercion? You have to go back nearly 90 years to find the statute that sets out this defence. It states “on a charge against a wife for any offence other than treason or murder it shall be a good defence to prove that the offence was committed in the presence of, and under the coercion of, the husband”
It is little used probably because it is little known, but whether she uses it in mitigation of her sentence remains to be seen. Given the guilty verdict it is less likely that we will see a flood of similar cases using this historic defence in our courts.
But it’s not just the method of defence that is of interest in this case. The public playing out of the breakdown of a family is heartbreaking to watch.
The Pryce case shows it clearly was not a good divorce for either party and the costs of that are frankly immeasurable. While most of us divorce lawyers see bitterness and the desire to bring the other down, we all know it is counter productive in the extreme.
Similar scenes are seen in homes across the country – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Not only are the financial ramifications not worth it – if there’s a business involved on either side one won’t get an income either – but the children, of whatever age, will be scarred by the experience.
Which is why collaborative divorce is of such benefit, although it isn’t easy.
This process in its truest form is exactly as it says on the tin – collaborative.
We bring in other professionals to collaborate with our clients. Counsellors and coaches help with the emotions and steer the clients away from self-destructive emotions and help with children’s arrangements.
The solicitors do not correspond in the traditional way but all of us meet with clients around a table whenever we need to negotiate. This means we all hear the same words at the same time. Advice can be given and discussed. Financial experts are consulted for advice on pensions, company share valuations and the like.
Everyone comes out the other end with a better chance of retaining their dignity and their role as parents and are far better placed to move on to the next stage of their lives without bitterness.
When put like this it seems a no-brainer, when compared to the Pryce/Huhne scenario. So what are the down sides? It takes a strong couple to collaborate, sitting round a table with such potentially raw emotions and discussing such life-changing matters is a challenge.
But challenge or not it has to be better than the alternative which we have seen played out over the past few weeks.
Rebecca Silcock is a partner and head of the family department at Mogers Solicitors in Bath. To contact her call 01225 750000.