Pay attention to the Chris Huhne story playing itself out in Britain, all those who seek justice for alleged suffering at the hands of Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier. Or those who pursue Narendra Modi, the supremely efficient chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, for his administration’s alleged complicity in communal riots that left at least 1,000 dead.
Huhne, a former Cabinet minister and one-time aspirant to leadership of his Liberal Democrat party, has just been sentenced to eight months in prison and repayment of the major portion of the £150,000 it cost the British authorities to prosecute him.
His offence? He had his ex-wife take penalty speeding points on her driver’s license though he was the one driving.
It sounds fairly petty doesn’t it? Especially in contrast to Mr Duvalier’s alleged crimes against humanity and Mr Modi’s alleged state-assisted pogrom against Muslims?
And yet, the judge in that court in London told Mr Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce that it was “a serious offence”. He meant the act of lying, the duplicity of Mr Huhne’s actions and his wife’s complicity.
Mr Justice Sweeney said the couple got away with the offence (committed at night in 2003) for eight long years but finally the law caught up with them. He added severely that Mr Huhne, a man who drove forward global climate change talks in 2010 and dreamed of leading his party (and perhaps his country) was the more culpable of the pair.
“You have fallen from a great height, albeit that is only modest mitigation, given that it is a height that you would never have achieved if you had not hidden your commission of such a serious offence in the first place,” the judge said.
Huhne is the first former British cabinet minister in 14 years to be sent to prison. In 1999, Jonathan Aitken was convicted of perjury. It is a reminder, if any were needed, of the way that rule of law works in countries like the UK (and the US). The law spares no one, howsoever high or low.
As the British prime minister, David Cameron said after the verdict, “It’s a reminder that no one, however high or mighty, is out of the reach of the justice system.”
Seen from Haiti (or India) Mr Huhne’s fall from grace in faraway Britain is extraordinary.
It is yet another legal triumph for the most basic of lessons we give our children: Be honest; don’t lie; take responsibility for your actions; do the right thing, not the easiest.
That’s what it means to be a developed country. Not supermarkets, frontier justice and impunity.