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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Brian Hutton, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland

James Brian Edward Hutton, Baron Hutton, PC, a British Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 29, 1932.

Hutton is the son of a railways executive. He wins a scholarship to Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford (BA jurisprudence, 1953) before returning to Belfast to study at Queen’s University Belfast and becoming a barrister, being called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1954. He begins working as junior counsel to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland in 1969.

Hutton becomes a Queen’s Counsel in 1970. From 1979 to 1989, as Sir Brian Hutton, he is a High Court judge. In 1989, he becomes Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, becoming a member of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland, before moving to England to become a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary on January 6, 1997. He is consequently granted a life peerage as Baron Hutton, of Bresagh in the County of Down.

On March 30, 1994, as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Hutton dismisses Private Lee Clegg‘s appeal against his controversial murder conviction. On March 21, 2002 he is 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 1989 at his trial.

Hutton represents the Ministry of Defence at the inquest into the killing of civil rights marchers on “Bloody Sunday.” Later, he publicly reprimands Major Hubert O’Neil, the coroner presiding over the inquest, when the coroner accuses the British Army of murder, as this contradicts the findings of the Widgery Tribunal.

Hutton also comes to public attention in 1999 during the extradition proceedings of former Chilean dictator General 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, decide by a 3-2 majority that Pinochet is to be extradited to Spain. The verdict is then overturned by a panel of seven Law Lords, including Hutton, on the grounds that Lord Lennie Hoffmann, one of the five Law Lords, has links to human rights group Amnesty International which had campaigned for Pinochet’s extradition.

In 1978, Hutton defends the UK at the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ireland v United Kingdom, when the court decides that the interrogation techniques used were “inhuman and degrading” and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but do not amount to “torture.” The court also finds that the practice of internment in Northern Ireland had not breached the Convention. He sentences ten men to 1,001 years in prison on the word of “supergrass” informer Robert Quigley, who is granted immunity in 1984.

Hutton is appointed by Tony Blair‘s government to chair the inquiry on the circumstances surrounding the death of scientist David Kelly. The inquiry commences on August 11, 2003. Many observers are surprised when he delivers his report on January 28, 2004 and clears the British Government in large part. His criticism of the BBC is regarded by some as unduly harsh with one critic commenting that Hutton had given the “benefit of judgement to virtually everyone in the government and no-one in the BBC.” In response to the verdict, the front page of The Independent newspaper consists of one word, “Whitewash?”

Peter Oborne writes 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. But few people seriously doubt 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.”

Hutton retires as a Law Lord on January 11, 2004. He remains a member of the House of Lords until retiring under the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 on April 23, 2018.

Hutton dies at the age of 88 on July 14, 2020.


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Birth of Hugh Holmes, MP & Judge of the Court of Appeal in Ireland

Hugh Holmes QC, an Irish Conservative Party, then after 1886 a Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and subsequently a Judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal in Ireland, is born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, on February 17, 1840.

Holmes is the son of William Holmes of Dungannon and Anne Maxwell. He attends the Royal School Dungannon and Trinity College, Dublin. He is called to the English bar in 1864 and to the Bar of Ireland in 1865.

Holmes becomes a Queen’s Counsel (QC) in 1877. He is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland on December 14, 1878 and serves until the Conservative government is defeated in 1880. He becomes Attorney-General for Ireland in 1885–1886 and 1886–1887. He is made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland on July 2, 1885. He is a MP for Dublin University from 1885 to 1887.

Holmes resigns from the House of Commons when he is appointed a Judge in 1887. He is a Justice of the Common Pleas division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland until 1888 when he becomes a Justice of the Queen’s Bench division. He is promoted to be a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1897. Ill health causes his retirement in 1914.

Holmes appears to be a stern judge, who does not suffer fools gladly and often imposes exceptionally severe sentences in criminal cases. Although the story is often thought to be apocryphal, Maurice Healy maintains that Holmes did once sentence a man of great age to 15 years in prison, and when the prisoner pleaded that he could not do 15 years, replied “Do as much of it as you can.” His judgments do however display some good humour and humanity, and the sentences he imposes often turned out to be less severe in practice than those he announces in Court.

The quality of his judgments is very high and Holmes, together with Christopher Palles and Gerald FitzGibbon, is credited with earning for the Irish Court of Appeal its reputation as perhaps the strongest tribunal in Irish legal history. His retirement, followed by that of Palles (FitzGibbon had died in 1909), causes a loss of expertise in the Court of Appeal from which its reputation never recovers. Among his more celebrated remarks is that the Irish “have too much of a sense of humour to dance around a maypole.” His judgment in The SS Gairloch remains the authoritative statement in Irish law on the circumstances in which an appellate court can overturn findings of fact made by the trial judge.

In 1869 Holmes marries Olivia Moule, daughter of J.W. Moule of Sneads Green House, Elmley Lovett, Worcestershire. She dies in 1901. Their children include Hugh junior, Sir Valentine Holmes KC (1888-1956), who like his father is a very successful barrister and a noted expert on the law of libel, Violet (dies in 1966), who married Sir Denis Henry, 1st Baronet, the first Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Elizabeth, who marries the politician and academic Harold Lawson Murphy, author of a well known History of Trinity College Dublin, and Alice (dies in 1942), who marries the politician and judge Edward Sullivan Murphy, Attorney General for Northern Ireland and Lord Justice of Appeal of Northern Ireland.

Holmes dies on April 19, 1916, five days before the beginning of the Easter Rising.