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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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Tribunal of Inquiry Into Bloody Sunday 1972 Announced

On January 31, 1972, the day after Bloody Sunday, British Home Secretary Reginald Maudling announces a tribunal of inquiry “into the circumstances of the march and the incidents leading up to the casualties which resulted.”

The official British Army position, backed by Maudling in the House of Commons, is that the paratroopers reacted to gun and nail bomb attacks from suspected Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. Apart from the soldiers, all eyewitnesses — including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present — maintain that soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded, whereas the soldiers themselves were not fired upon. No British soldier is wounded by gunfire or reports any injuries, nor are any bullets or nail bombs recovered to back up their claims.

On February 2, 1972, the day that twelve of those killed are buried, there is a general strike in the Republic of Ireland, the biggest such strike in Europe since World War II relative to population. Memorial services are held in Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as synagogues, throughout the Republic. The same day, irate crowds burn down the British embassy in Merrion Square in Dublin. Anglo-Irish relations hit one of their lowest ebbs with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Hillery, going to the United Nations Security Council to demand the involvement of a UN peacekeeping force in the Northern Ireland conflict.

In the days following Bloody Sunday, Bernadette Devlin, the independent Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) for Mid Ulster, expresses anger at what she perceives as British government attempts to stifle accounts being reported about the shootings. Having witnessed the events firsthand, she is infuriated that the Speaker of the House of Commons, Selwyn Lloyd, consistently denies her the chance to speak in Parliament about the shootings, although parliamentary convention decrees that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion will be granted an opportunity to speak about it in Parliament. Devlin slaps Reginald Maudling and calls him a “murdering hypocrite” when he makes a statement to Parliament that the British Army had fired only in self-defence. She is temporarily suspended from Parliament as a result.

An inquest into the deaths is held in August 1973. The city’s coroner, Hubert O’Neill, a retired British Army major, issues a statement at the completion of the inquest. He declares:

“This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.”

(Pictured: Home Secretary Reginald Maudling (left) and Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster Bernadette Devlin)