Stephen Fry has been in the press quite a lot this week, firstly with his happy news of his engagement and secondly, supporting his fiancé in Cwmbran Magistrates Court for his sentencing in relation to a speeding offence.
Elliott Spencer was given a seven day driving ban and a fine after speeding at 101mph to get the comedian to the Hay-on-Wye literature festival.
The court heard one of the mitigating factors was when Mr Fry told his partner to "get a move on", however could this have taken on greater legal significance if the pair were already married?
We will all be familiar with celebrities in various legal difficulties in court and as a result of one such hearing, we would be familiar with the defence of “marital coercion”. This was (unsuccessfully) advanced by Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of the former Liberal Democrat MP, Chris Huehne.
This defence is provided by Section 47 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and states that it can apply to any offence other than treason or murder. The definitions are somewhat outdated given recent laws on marriage, but in essence state that a wife can argue the defence of marital coercion, providing she can prove (on the balance of probabilities) that the defence was committed in the presence and under the coercion of the husband.
A few interesting points arise when you consider this case and similar cases, for example, the defence can only apply if the couple are married in the “strict sense of the term”, therefore unmarried couples, engaged couples and Civil Partnerships could not advance this defence.
I think it would be safe to assume that the “strict sense of the term” would now include same sex legal marriages, but it appears that no conclusion has yet been reached on polygamous Islamic marriages applying such a defence. Presumably because of the fact that it is not the sort of defence which would be frequently advanced in court and therefore tested in the higher courts.
It also should be said that the coercion involved needs be a little bit more forceful than Mr Fry’s comment in this case to “get a move on”. Whilst it should not normally require the coerced person to have been the victim of some sort of physical force or the threat thereof, it needs to be beyond ‘mere persuasion out of loyalty’.
In any event, regardless of the advance in the law, Mr Fry and his partner have left it too long before formalising their union and therefore the marital coercion defence is not to them.
Slater and Gordon are a national law firm with 1,450 staff and offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Merseyside, Bristol, Newcastle, Halifax, Wakefield, Cambridge & meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire & in Hull.