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Lord Hutton was born in Belfast. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford and returned to Belfast to become a barrister, working as junior counsel to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland. From 1979 to 1988 he was (as Sir Brian Hutton) a High Court judge. In 1988 he became Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, being made Baron Hutton of Bresagh in the County of Down for the purpose, before moving to England in 1997 to become a Law Lord.
During his career Hutton has pronounced on several cases to reach the public eye. On March 30 1994 as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, he dismissed Private Lee Clegg's appeal against his controversial murder conviction. On March 21 2002 Hutton was one of four Law Lords to reject David Shayler's application to use a 'public interest' defence as defined in section 1 of the Official Secrets Act at his trial.
Hutton represented the Ministry of Defence at the inquest into the killing of civil rights marchers on 'Bloody Sunday'. Later, he publicly reprimanded Major Hubert O'Neil, the coroner presiding over the inquest, when the coroner accused the British army of murder, as this contradicted Lord Chief Justice Widgery's findings (1). The Widgery Tribunal, a commission of inquiry established by the Heath government, is now widely regarded as a whitewash of the British army.
Hutton also came to public attention in 1999 during the extradition proceedings of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet had been arrested in London on torture allegations by request of a Spanish judge. Five Law Lords, the UK's highest court, decided by a 3-2 majority that Pinochet was to be extradited to Spain. Lord Hutton led a public campaign against this decision on the grounds that Lord Hoffmann, one of the five Law Lords, had links to human rights group Amnesty International. The verdict was then overturned by a panel of seven Law Lords which included Lord Hutton (2),(3).
In 1978 he defended Britain in the European Court of Human Rights when it was found guilty of torturing internees without trial. He is known for sentencing 10 men to 1,001 years in prison on the word of 'supergrass' informer Robert Quigley who was granted immunity in 1984.
Lord Hutton was appointed by the Blair government to chair the inquiry into the death of the British scientist Dr. David Kelly at the heart of the September Dossier controversy. The inquiry commenced on August 11, 2003. Many observers were surprised when he delivered his report on 28 January 2004. Lord Hutton cleared the British Government in large part. His criticism of the BBC was regarded by many as unduly harsh and led to the comment he had given the "benefit of judgement to virtually everyone in the government and no-one in the BBC".
Peter Oborne wrote in The Spectator in January 2004: "Legal opinion in Northern Ireland, where Lord Hutton practised for most of his career, emphasises the caution of his judgments. He is said to have been habitually chary of making precedents. One leading politician from the province, himself extremely knowledgeable about the law, implies that Lord Hutton carries baggage, claiming that the Ulster-born law lord ‘has never forgiven or forgotten the Good Friday agreement’. But no one seriously doubts Hutton’s fairness or independence. Though [he is] a dour Presbyterian, there were spectacular acquittals of some very grisly IRA terrorist suspects when he was a judge in the Diplock era."
Having been at the receiving end of the British justice system, Northern Irish nationalists have a different view of Hutton. Sinn Féin's Danny Morrison wrote in The Guardian: "Although in the Belfast high court Hutton occasionally acquitted republicans and dismissed the appeals of soldiers, nationalists generally considered him a hanging judge and the guardian angel of soldiers and police officers. [...] I was amused at the response of sections of the media and British public [to Hutton's exonorating the Blair government]. Do they know anything about how the establishment works?"