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British judge in dock over role in scandal that toppled minister

Source: Reuters - Wed, 15 Jan 2014 16:40 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A British judge hailed as a role model appeared in court on Wednesday as the defendant, accused of lying to police about her role in a revenge plot that landed a cabinet minister in jail.

Constance Briscoe, 56, has pleaded not guilty to three charges of perverting the course of justice. She will present her defence case later in her trial at London's Southwark Crown Court.

Briscoe has gained prominence as one of Britain's first black women to be appointed a recorder, or part-time judge, and as the author of a best-selling childhood memoir titled "Ugly".

Her case is a sequel to the saga of former minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce, who were both jailed for eight months last year for lying to police in 2003 over which of them had committed a speeding offence.

Pryce exposed the deception in the press in 2011 in an act of revenge against Huhne after he left her for his mistress in 2010. That caused Huhne's downfall but also backfired on Pryce.

Now Briscoe, praised as a role model for overcoming an under-privileged start in life to become a trial lawyer and recorder, is the third high-profile figure whose career and reputation are on the line.

"INTENT" ON MINISTER'S DOWNFALL

She is accused of hiding from police how close she was to Pryce and her role in trying to get the speeding story into the newspapers in a way that would hurt Huhne but not Pryce.

"She presented herself ... as somebody who was independent and objective, rather than someone who was engaging with the media and quite intent on Mr Huhne's downfall herself," prosecutor Bobbie Cheema told the court.

Huhne, a senior Liberal Democrat who was energy secretary in Britain's coalition government, was once seen as a potential successor to party leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, until the scandal ended his career.

Pryce was a prominent economist who had been co-head of the government's economic service. After her conviction she was stripped of a title bestowed on her by Queen Elizabeth.

Briscoe became involved in the Huhne-Pryce story because one of the early newspaper articles about it, in May 2011, named her as a neighbour of Pryce and hinted she had direct knowledge of the speeding deception.

Briscoe was interviewed by police and, based on what she told them, she was lined up to be a key prosecution witness in the trial of Huhne and Pryce.

However, when police later obtained dozens of journalists' emails relating to the speeding story, they found evidence that contrary to what Briscoe had told them, she had been a close confidante to Pryce and had negotiated with journalists over how to run the story.

She was dropped as a prosecution witness and later charged.

The trial continues. (Editing by Andrew Roche)

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