On Sunday 31st March 2013, the justice secretary Chris Grayling stated the government are considering whether to abolish the defence of ‘martial coercion’, which was unsuccessfully used by Vicky Pryce in her trial regarding speeding points she adopted on behalf of her husband.
The defence of marital coercion is only available for a wife and dates back to 1925 however there have been recommendations to abolish it since 1977 considering it illogical to have a defence only open to married women. This archaic defence is now deemed to be in conflict with gender equality. Marital coercion dates back to a time women did not have equal rights and were dependent upon their spouse. Vicky Pryce was a well-educated woman who was a notable economist and as such hiding behind her status as a wife in order to avoid criminal liability for her actions is an out of date concept, conflicting with the key principle of presumption of innocence within article6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. It has been argued that there is no justification left for a law which states married women are more likely to be coerced than men or unmarried women.
The government are currently considering reforms to gay marriage laws, and it is deemed this defence would also be at conflict with this due to it only being available to a woman. It is believed the defence will be removed when gay marriage legislation comes into place.
There are many who have argued this defence is not appropriate for modern circumstances as we are now in a society where women are financially independent of their husbands and therefore are less susceptible to coercion. It is also out of touch in terms of same-sex couples. Despite the advice of the Law Commission to abolish the defence of marital coercion, it is believed by some that action will not be taken unless there is political gain involved.