Politics

Fallen Judge Constance Briscoe – What are we to learn?

Constance BriscoeThere is without question, some tensions involved in reconciling the downfall of a successful black professional woman with the fact that she had not exactly been community spirited, to put it mildly. Thoughts of Lord Taylor come to mind, a black barrister and part-time Deputy District Judge and later a peer, who became involved in the much publicised expenses scandal that involved hundreds of politicians. Still, Lord Taylor became one of only two peers to be convicted and sentenced to prison. His pathetic defence was something like, ‘everyone was doing it?’ I might add, the other peer sentenced to prison was Lord Hanningfield, a white, relatively working class male. Guilty? Yes. Scapegoated? Yes but did Lord Taylor really believe he was the same as ‘everyone’? Did he not get it?

And now we have Barrister and Judge Briscoe who had risen against the odds and was someone we were proud of until she wrote Ugly, a book that heavily pathologised her own family, no less. Where is a ‘successful’ black female judge to go after she has sold-out her community and family? Surely there can be no worse moment than realising you cannot even go to your folks when you are in great need of help. That aside, what was she doing with Vicky Price, wife of the now disgraced MP Chris Huhne? The scenario of two unhappy women as neighbours, hurt by their husband’s infidelities is understandable. Chris Huhne’s affair is well documented and in 2010, Judge Briscoe’s 75 year-old husband Anthony Arlidge QC, left her for a 25 year-old woman. Not unusually, their husbands had opted for younger, less independent, competent women where they presumably, feel more necessary than they did with mature middle-aged successful woman. Nothing new there then.
Briscoe and Pryce set out for revenge but did Briscoe do something that no other judge would or has not done before? As with Lord Taylor’s expenses, no I certainly do not believe so. Judges have done far worse and simply been allowed to ‘retire’ or hide it, frankly. Her crime is that she has been caught and the reason she has been caught is because like Lord Taylor, she forgot who she was. A black woman judge, is no more than a ‘posh nigger’ for as successful as she might become, she is still seen through the fixed gaze of ‘black’ ‘the nigger’ or whatever version of the negroid body that is fixed by the viewer that makes it so impossible to be seen outside it. Black is almost always negative, erotic or athletic but not independent such as ‘person’ no matter what position or status you occupy here in the UK. In this case she worked in partnership with a white Greek woman in Pryce so not even British then. In effect, two ‘foreigners’ conspired to bring down a white middle-class British male, for the sake of argument, one of ‘their own’. From this point of view, it seems inexplicable that they thought they could achieve such a downfall without bringing attention to themselves personally? Was Briscoe not aware that her very success alone was generating enough resentment? Did she not now give them opportunity?
Thus, Briscoe and Pryce did not play ‘societies game’ so well for they actually believed they could distort the system without being noticed. But nor were they sensible enough to have looked after themselves so grounding themselves in feminist or black communities thus, gathering some political  support. Instead, they were like ‘sitting ducks’ with nobody to rush to their rescue. It was ‘uppity’ stupid, arrogant or naïve. As a consequence, but for Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers, black communities have expressed condemnation of Briscoe and open joy at her downfall. I have no doubt however, that Peter Herbert has a point. Was not her sentence disproportionate? When did we last see a judge go to prison anyway?
More significant is the media representation that now eagerly slants towards the idea that the domestic chaos between what was a successful public middle-class, white couple in Huhne and Pryce, can somehow be put at the feet of Briscoe.  There is a hint of, ‘she did it to us!’ in the air. Chris Huhne clearly full of glee has had the audacity to write today in the Independent, ‘I was guilty but it’s Constance Briscoe’s fault I went to prison’. Like Lord Taylor, he suggests he should have been allowed to get away with what was a fairly ‘normal’ crime suggesting, “Although I was guilty, I justified my denial to myself by saying that it was a relatively minor offence committed by 300,000 other people….”. Can you imagine a young black man saying such a thing? I would think he had gone mad. Chris Huhne is a man who clearly does not care about what he has done though he does care that he got caught and by uppity females at that. As he also pointed out, Briscoe was someone he had even had around to his house for drinks once a year? Does he not see that his position is no more ethical than that of Briscoe, the very person he is trying to demonise and feign hurt whilst on a naked crusade of revenge. Notably, Pryce is absolutely silent.
Quite insultingly, Huhne has also played the race card in referring to the ‘Ugly affair’ as if he now cares about the mother of Briscoe or indeed the black community. He is rewriting himself as the victim against these ‘two scheming women’ that have hurt him un-sportingly and no doubt destroyed his Liberal Democrat leadership hopes. This is a very angry man. Yes, he admits to being guilty but he has a lot of  ‘buts’ that follow it. So desperate is he to jump on the uppity Briscoe bandwagon he has forgotten to display remorse, humility or any other sense of responsibility for his actions such as that which caused this whole debacle in the first place. That being, before he left his wife, he fiddled his speeding points by asking her to take them to protect him, which she did – lest we forget.
To Ms Briscoe, let us hope that she can find some way back to her mum before it is too late. She needs to apologise to a good few people but especially to her mum, and to take one step at a time. She has learned the hard way but hopefully, she has learned. I for one will forgive her if she can learn to find some humility and thereby forgive herself. We learn we can get lost and make terrible mistakes. We have to forgive so that life can go on – so that we can go on positively without hate in our hearts.

About Marlene

As a scholar-activist, my interests are in race, education, Postcolonial theory, Pan-Africanism and Cultural Studies. These overlap with political identities in gender, social-class and sexualities. As long as I am fighting for justice through policy, theory or practice, I feel aligned with the universe

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