The defence of marital coercion, by Chris Huhne's former wife Vicky Pryce at her trial last year, is to be abolished.
At present, English law provides a complete defence for a woman charged with a criminal offence other than treason or murder who can show that the offence was committed in the presence, and under the coercion of her husband.
The Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach has indicated the government's support for an to the antisocial behaviour, crime and policing bill repealing this provision of the Criminal Justice Act 1925. Peers are expected to approve the amendment during the bill's report stage next week.
The amendment was tabled last year by the cross-bench peer Lord Pannick QC. "I welcome the government's decision to remove an absurd law that should have been abolished a long time ago," he said on Friday.
The defence is as a relic of a bygone age. It can be used only by a woman married to a man.
Pryce unsuccessfully argued that it absolved her from criminal liability for lying about driving her then husband's car when it was caught speeding. Many observers thought this was an extraordinary defence for any woman, let alone a former joint head of the government economic service. But the first jury that tried Pryce on even a majority verdict, suggesting that some of its members were persuaded by the defence.
Explaining the government's thinking in a letter to peers, Taylor pointed out that the Law Commission had called for the abolition of the defence as long ago as 1977, not least because it could be used only by wives. "We are satisfied that the defence is indeed anachronistic," the minister said.
It is intended that abolition of the defence will take effect two months after the bill is passed by parliament. The general defence of duress will not be affected.