She was an inspiration and a role model, now she is to be jailed for 16 months for lying. Constance Briscoe, 56, high-flying barrister and one of the UK’s very few part-time black female Judges, has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice. Her downfall and disgrace was complete as, being sentenced at the Old Bailey, she was told that she “considered respect for the law was for others.” She passed judgement and handed down sentences now she is facing her own incarceration and her career is in ruins. This is the woman who once said of herself, “I think I give the judiciary an enormous amount of dignity” Now her honesty on other matters comes into doubt, and will be investigated, specifically claims in her best-selling misery-memoir Ugly.
How did such a downfall come about? It all goes back to the Huhne/Pryce case, where the vengeful ex-wife of a cabinet minister sought to expose him, after he left her for an aide. Vicky Pryce let it be known that she had taken speeding points on her own license, incurred by Chris Huhne. Her testimony was considered to be validated, by the back-up of her friend and neighbour, Constance Briscoe.
Briscoe had also just been dumped, by her partner of 12 years, fellow barrister Anthony Aldridge. Aldridge left her for a trainee barrister, 50 years younger than him. He was 75. Both Pryce and Briscoe were betrayed women seething with rage and emotional abandonment. “You took my love, crushed it up, and then you threw it in my face” Briscoe wrote to Aldridge.
It was a time in both Pryce and Briscoe’s lives when they had every reason to detest men and to seek to destroy those who had humiliated them.
Briscoe gave the police a statement and immediately became a star prosecution witness, given her renown as a barrister. Her corroborative evidence was said to be impartial and she denied ever speaking to the press.
The Huhne camp were suspicious and did some digging. It came to light that Briscoe had indeed been in constant contact with a journalist from the Mail on Sunday. An email trail revealed that she had blatantly lied about this. She was dropped as a witness and further probing took place.
It then transpired that not only had she lied to the police, she had altered a witness statement and fabricated a document sent to an expert witness, purportedly to explain her own altered statement.
It was a classic example of the old parable, “what a web we weave, when once we practice to deceive”. Briscoe’s sentence, ironically, at 16 months, is twice the length of time both Huhne and Pryce went on to serve for their individual wrongdoing.
Now the spotlight swings to her bestseller, Ugly, accounting her traumatic and troubled childhood, from which she so triumphantly rose and overcame. Briscoe’s mother, Carmen, in particular, was written of as an abusive and violent parent, who physically and mentally tormented the young Constance.
Carmen, who was in court every day of the perversion of the course of justice trial, sued her daughter for libel in 2008. She lost. She continues to deny all allegations of abuse and now says that she wants her daughter to say to her, “Mum, I’m sorry.”
BBC Radio 4 program The Report looked at the medical evidence submitted during the libel trial, that served to corroborate abuse. The letters, dated between 1971 and 1972 carry doctors signatures, but one of the doctor’s has no recollection of ever writing two of them.
Other factors about the letters were peculiar, including the fact that they contained non-medical terminology and language. The BBC have passed these discoveries onto the Metropolitan police, who confirm they will be continuing an inquiry.
“All I want is the truth” says Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, the guilty party’s mother. At the time of the libel case, Constance Briscoe’s siblings, of whom there were 10 full and half brothers and sisters, mostly supported their mum. Sister Patsy declared “I couldn’t believe what I was reading.”
Although a role model, specifically to young black women, thousands of whom had read her book, Briscoe reportedly had many issues with her own image. She had many surgeries, beginning at age 22, to alter her appearance, including getting a smaller mouth and nose, and even narrower feet.
She started out in life as the child of impoverished Jamaican immigrants and battled her way to the top of a tough profession. By the time of her downfall, she lived in a smart neighbourhood, spoke with a polished accent, sent her kids to private school and was often on television. Among those she would criticise on air were those who “didn’t want to work.” As a judge her sentencing was described as “hard line” and “strict.”
This is the same person who has now gone down accused of the “arrogance by educated individuals” who strike at the heart of our “much cherished system of criminal justice” according to Mr Justice Baker, the judge who tried her. A senior investigating officer, John McDermott of the Kent police also said she had lost more than her liberty. “Constance Briscoe was the architect of her own downfall” he noted.
Needless to say she is highly unlikely to ever sit as a judge again. The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office will issue a report on whether she will be removed. Her sister Patsy said today that Constance was “a disgrace to the black community” because she had failed all those who looked to her as a role model.
The disgrace and downfall of the judge who deemed herself above the law is already overwhelming, but if new evidence leads to her libel case against her own mother getting reviewed, it could still get even worse for Constance Briscoe.
By Kate Henderson