Jury discharged in Vicky Pryce trial

Unable to reach a verdict.

The jury has been discharged in the Vicky Pryce trial, as it was unable to come to a verdict.

Pryce is accused of perverting the course of justice by taking speeding points for her ex-husband, the former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

Earlier, the judge had said he would accept a majority, rather than a unanimous, verdict.

The jury's questions to the judge, and the judge's clarifications, make for quite lively reading. In answer to a question about whether "religious conviction be a good enough reason for a wife feeling she had no choice" but to obey her husband, Mr Justice Sweeney wrote:

This is not, with respect, a question about this case at all. Vicky Pryce does not say that any such reason formed any part of her decision to do what she did. Answering this question will not help you in any way whatsoever to reach a true verdict in this case. I must direct you firmly to focus on the real issues in this case.”

I want to repeat the absolutely vital importance of your following my directions of law to the letter and the fact that it is an equally important part of each of your individual duties to ensure that all of you do follow my directions of law to the letter.

NS legal correspondent David Allen Green has been discussing on Twitter what happens next:

 

A retrial has been scheduled for Monday.

Vicky Pryce arrivng at Southwark Crown Court. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.