Brian Hutton, Baron Hutton Explained

Honorific-Prefix:The Right Honourable
The Lord Hutton
Honorific-Suffix: PC
Office:Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland
Term Start:1988
Term End:1997
Appointer:Elizabeth II
Predecessor:The Lord Lowry
Successor:The Lord Carswell
Office2:Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Term Start2:1997
Term End2:2004
Appointer2:Elizabeth II
Birth Date:29 June 1931
Birth Place:Belfast, Northern Ireland

James Brian Edward Hutton, Baron Hutton, PC (born June 29, 1931), is a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and British Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.


Hutton was born in Belfast, the son of a railways executive, he won a scholarship to Shrewsbury School[1] and Balliol College, Oxford (BA jurisprudence, 1953) before returning to Belfast to become a barrister (after study at Queen's University Belfast), being called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1954. He began working as junior counsel to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland in 1969.

He became Queen's Counsel in 1970. From 1979 to 1988, he was (as Sir Brian Hutton) a High Court judge. In 1988 he became Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, becoming a member of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland, before moving to England in 1997 to become a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. He was 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, he dismissed Private Lee Clegg's appeal against his controversial murder conviction. On March 21, 2002, Lord Hutton was 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.

Lord Hutton represented the Ministry of Defence at the inquest into the killing of civil rights marchers on "Bloody Sunday". Later, he publicly reprimanded Major Hubert O'Neil, the coroner presiding over the inquest, when the coroner accused the British Army of murder, as this contradicted the findings of the Widgery Tribunal.[2]

Lord Hutton also came to public attention in 1999 during the extradition proceedings of former Chilean dictator Gen. 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, decided by a 3-2 majority that Pinochet was to be extradited to Spain. The verdict was then overturned by a panel of seven Law Lords, including Lord Hutton[3] on the grounds that Lord Hoffmann, one of the five Law Lords, had links to human rights group Amnesty International which had campaigned for Pinochet's extradition.

In 1978 he defended Britain in the European Court of Human Rights when it was found guilty of torturing internees without trial. He sentenced 10 men to 1,001 years in prison on the word of 'supergrass' informer Robert Quigley who was granted immunity in 1984.

Lord Hutton was appointed by the Blair government to chair the inquiry on the circumstances surrounding the death of the British scientist David Kelly. The inquiry commenced on August 11, 2003. Many observers were surprised when he delivered his report on January 28, 2004, and cleared the British Government in large part. His criticism of the BBC was regarded by some as unduly harsh; one critic commented that he had given the "benefit of judgement to virtually everyone in the government and no-one in the BBC.".[4] In repsonse to the verdict, the front page of The Independent newspaper consisted of one word: "Whitewash?".

Peter Oborne wrote 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."

Sinn Féin and former IRA member (volunteer) Danny Morrison wrote in The Guardian: "Although in the Belfast high court Hutton occasionally acquitted republicans and dismissed the appeals of soldiers, nationalists generally considered him a hanging judge and the guardian angel of soldiers and police officers."

Lord Hutton retired as a Law Lord on January 11, 2004.


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Notes and References

  1. "Lord Hutton," The Independent,
  2. see BBC News
  3. BBC News
  4. BBC News