Ex-minister Chris Huhne could face £100,000 legal bill

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce arriving at Southwark Crown Court earlier Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce were both jailed for eight months in March

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Ex-minister Chris Huhne is fighting a claim for more than £100,000 in legal costs following his conviction for perverting the course of justice.

Prosecutors are also seeking more than £48,000 from Huhne's ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, who was jailed alongside him after accepting his speeding points.

Lawyers for the former couple argue the sums are not just or reasonable.

Both Huhne and Pryce are likely to be freed from prison next month after serving a quarter of their sentence.

The pair were both jailed for eight months in March after it emerged she had taken speeding points on his behalf a decade earlier, while they were married.

The former energy secretary admitted asking Pryce to take the points, and Pryce was convicted of having agreed to do so.

'Serious misconduct'

On Monday, the costs hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London was told Huhne's legal team had made an offer of £25,000 to be paid towards the case.

But the Crown Prosecution Service said it was seeking a total of £108,541 because of Huhne's protracted attempts to get the case dismissed.

His arguments, the court heard, had been based on the "lie" that Pryce had made up the allegation that he forced her to take his speeding points.

Start Quote

In our view, a reasonable, indeed arguably generous, but reasonable figure... would be £25,000”

End Quote John Kelsey-Fry QC Lawyer for Chris Huhne

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said the CPS had done "an enormous amount of work" based on that claim and accused the former MP for Eastleigh of "serious misconduct" given that he ultimately pleaded guilty on the eve of his trial.

"All of this occurred because Mr Huhne decided to do everything he could to try and get away with what he had done and gave in only at the last minute when defeat was inevitable," Mr Edis said.

"This was essentially predominantly caused by Mr Huhne's decision to make two applications - first to apply to dismiss on the grounds of insufficiency of evidence and secondly to apply to stay the proceedings as an abuse of process."

Mr Edis said the cost of the case included more than £31,000 in police overtime, resulting from Operation Solar, which was launched after Huhne's legal team raised doubts about whether he could receive a fair trial.

But John Kelsey-Fry QC, representing Huhne, said it was "simply unjust and unreasonable" to expect him to pay what he described as "every single possible penny that anybody could think of".

"In our view, a reasonable - indeed arguably generous - but reasonable figure which we would have been prepared to offer had the door not been closed on the day of sentence, would be £25,000."

Julian Knowles QC, acting for Pryce, said she was originally asked to pay about £38,000 and the CPS must explain why that had now increased to £48,695.

Home detention

Pryce's solicitor Robert Brown told BBC News he expected his client to be freed on an electronic tag on 13 May.

The economist will have to wear the tag for another two months and will then be on licence for the remaining four months of her sentence, the BBC understands.

Legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said Huhne was likely to leave prison around the same time as he also meets the criteria for so-called home detention curfew.

Mr Justice Sweeney will give his ruling in the case next week. Any prosecution costs levied will be in addition to Huhne and Pryce's own legal fees.

The former couple were charged last year over an incident in March 2003 when Huhne's BMW car was caught by a speed camera on the M11 between Stansted Airport, in Essex, and London. He was an MEP at the time.

The prosecution said that between 12 March and 21 May 2003, Pryce had falsely informed police she had been the driver of the car, so Huhne would avoid prosecution.

He was in danger of losing his licence having already accrued nine penalty points.

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