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 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.
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.
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