Saturday, August 02, 2003
The Inquiry - 2nd August 2003, 18.07

The Grauniad published a more detailed biography of Lord Brian Hutton that provides further insights into the Law Lord appointed to chair the inquiry into the death of Kelly. He always wears a hat, lists no leisure activities in Who's Who and retains a reputation for being a judge's judge. However, his appointment will be no whitewash for the Blair government. In the trial of Patrick Nash, back in 1992, Hutton branded the defendant a "liar" and acquitted him because there was circumstantial evidence that the RUC had beaten him. His bearing in this case may guide the inquiry.

Much of that outlook-forming time in Northern Ireland took place during the Troubles, when judges were IRA targets, and lived with their families in a bulletproof, restricted world with little opportunity to encounter anti-establishment, counter-culture views outside the courtroom. There is little doubt that Hutton is a conservative figure, with a deeply-felt respect towards established institutions. But that respect seems to extend towards the letter of the law, and the judiciary as an independent body. He had no hesitation in calling Nash a liar; he did not call the RUC liars; but, in the end, Nash walked free. The judge had cast doubt on the veracity of both sides. A delicate, scrupulous, yet ultimately ambiguous, examination of the truth, and nobody in jail, and nobody resigning - could this be the outcome the government yearns for from the Hutton inquiry?

The government should be mindful of a public figure who places principles above political survival, even if they are delicately expressed through the subtle processes of the law. Already, documents thay may be viewed as relevant in the scheme of things have been found in rubbish bins and have only been rescued by security guards. It is a sad state of affairs when you can trust Group 4 more than the civil service to act in the public interest.

Now, Hutton has declared himself to be the law, quoting Scarman, and allowing the Guardian to indulge in their penchant for pop culture infodumps by mentioning Judge Dredd (although Hutton strikes me as more of a Judge Fargo).

"This inquiry is to be conducted - and I stress it - by myself," he said. "All the decisions have to be taken by me... it is I, and I alone, who will decide what witnesses will be called. I also decide to what matters their evidence will be directed." He was quoting Lord Justice Scarman in 1974.

Of course, this may all be for presentation but, I suspect, that Hutton will indulge in the cliche that the wheels of justice grind slowly. He promptly adjourned the inquiry until August 11th, presumably becuase most of the witnesses have left the country. Funny that.


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