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.