I thought I’d heard every possible angle on the Pryce/Huhne story then French avocat Monique Fauchon gave me something fresh. This sorry saga has had so many twists you could almost use it for law students: one legal case to explore multiple legal principles.
First the issue of dishonesty in public office and whether there should be a different standard expected of those in high office. Discuss. Then an acrimonious marital breakdown following Huhne’s affair with his PR aide and accusations of "marital coercion", tried by the highly educated career woman Vicky Pryce but a defence that most of us had never heard of. And given it only applies in the context of a straight marriage, is it still an appropriate legal point for the modern age in any event? Again, discuss.
And of course the criminal justice process came under scrutiny big-time, thanks to a truly bizarre turn of events in this case as the jury completely failed... both to reach a verdict and to display an inkling of sense in the proceedings. Finally this week we reached the point of custodial sentences for both Huhne and Pryce. So the latest commentary has focussed on whether or not the sentences are fair given the rarity of prosecutions, let alone custodial sentences, for swapping points. Again, are we right to expect different standards of people in high public office? You have 2,000 words to put forward your view.
Monique runs a boutique law firm with partner Michel Levy. Fauchon Levy has one office in Paris also one in London, and specialises in helping corporate and private clients bridge the channel dividing English and French legal systems. It’s not just the black letter law that separates these two jurisdictions but sometimes their entire cultures, their governmental systems and customs, which if misunderstood can throw people’s cross-channel personal or business affairs into dire straits.
“The interesting thing for me about the Vicky Pryce case is the striking differences with the way the “saga” would have been treated in France" Monique tells me. Firstly, the affair of the husband would not have been revealed by the press because of our laws on privacy. Secondly, it is not a crime to swap points between spouses. Thirdly, this “crime” could not have been prosecuted in France since a shorter limitation would have been applied. Fourthly, the sentence would not have been so draconian. It would certainly have been suspended as Miss Pryce has no criminal record."
Astonishing how different jurisdictions can be such a short distance away from English shores.
Monique has impressed me before with tales of her smart tactical usage of French law to effect a neat outcome for clients in the UK. She has been known to use (the much stricter) French privacy laws to suppress publication of a UK national tabloid or broadsheet story on the basis that international circulation will undoubtedly reach French audiences, thus contravening her client’s privacy rights in France, thus halting publication of the article altogether. I’d love to tell you about the high profile, potential headline news stories she’s worked on in this way. But I might end up in the Bastille if I did!
Lots of interesting aspects to the appointment of the new Pope this week. We watched history in the making as for the first time ever the previous Pontiff was still around to watch the arrival of his successor. Whether this change to the principles of papal succession will usher in the sea-change the scandal-rocked Catholic Church so badly needs remains to be seen. But one change was apparent for all to see and I loved the way the Guardian told the story: the photos that spoke a thousand words about how our modern life has changed since Pope Benedict’s inauguration eight years ago. In 2005 the new pope was greeted by flickering candles. This week the new papal era was marked by a wall of iPads and iPhones.
Let’s hope the Catholic Church takes this cue about the changing times and starts to catch up with modern society's ideas of openness, transparency and accountability.
Looking forward to our Kysen outing to see “Read All About It”, a dance extravaganza by students of King’s College past and present at Greenwood theatre. One act is choreographed by our very own Mariya Derelieva as part of her alumni activity. The latest edition to the Kysen team, Mariya is a very bright young woman who comes from Bulgaria, originally engineering and funding her own move to study history at King’s and achieving a first class degree despite English being her second language. The title of the show is very appropriate given our focus on all things news-related. Mariya is not giving much away about tonight’s performance other than to say there will be 20 different dances all related to the theme of news. Should I be worried a pastiche of life at Kysen might have crept in to the proceedings? The story of Kysen in dance form. Now there’s an idea…