22nd December 1925. Marital Coercion.

The antique notion that a wife was in submission to her husband, was being seen in modern times, to look increasingly shaky.(1)

Marital coercion was a defence to most crimes, apart from treason and murder, in English common law and under the criminal law of Northern Ireland, and was similar to duress. However coercion is more subtle than duress, where there is a suggestion of threats of physical violence, on the husband’s part, to gain his ends.

One such case caused an amendment of the law Today in 1925, and enacted in The Criminal Justice Act: ‘an Act to amend the law with respect to the administration of criminal justice in England and otherwise to amend criminal law’.

Part IV  related to the abolition of presumption of coercion of married women by the husband. One result was that from now on, in cases of alleged marital coercion, the wife had to prove her case.(2)

One notable case was that of the wife of canoe man’s wife Anne Darwin, who claimed she was coerced by husband John in attempt to defraud the insurance and pension people when he faked death at sea.

However it was proved they were in collusion  and any plea had to be in presence of the husband. They were both gaoled.

Before that in August 2000 Ashley Filton had successfully won her case before magistrates when she claimed coercion by her husband to drive a car when she was over the drink limit. An unusual case in that there had only been 6 cases in the previous 75 years.(3)

Under common law there was a presumption that a female defendant could give evidence if there was a suggestion of marital coercion. However The Criminal Justice Act of that year said, ‘On a charge against a wife for any offence, other than treason or murder, it shall be good defence to prove that the offence was committed in presence of, and under coercion of, the husband’.

This proved a difficulty in the Pryce v Huhne case of February 2013, where Vicky Pryce  said she had been coerced into taking her husband’s driving points, was left with burden of producing evidence that Huhne was present between March and May 2003, when it was supposed to have occurred.

Mr Justice Sweeney decided there was no requirement that Chris Huhne had to defend himself against coercing her, as it was for the prosecution to disprove the defence case.(4).

In the event both were convicted on charges of perverting the course of justice and committed to custodial sentences.

(1) The notion goes back to the the laws of the 8th century King Ine: ‘if a husband steals a beast and takes it into his house, his wife is deemed innocent’.

(2) Ch 86 15 &16 Geo 5. Part IV related to marital coercion.Miscellaneous and General and under Section 47.

(3) Reported in Daily Telegraph Review Saturday April 13th 2013.

(4) This relating to the trial of Vicky Pryce. Huhne was a Liberal MP and former Minister and the only one forced to resign in modern times. in such circumstances.

Ref: Joshua Rozenberg/guardian.co.uk. Thurs 7.3.2013.

Ref: newlawjournal/trouble-strife/2013.

Ref: solicitorsjournal.com/does-marital-coercion-belong-in-21st-century? Richard Easton 2013.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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