Hutton appointment smacks of cover-up
The announcement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair of a judicial inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly this week - to be headed up by Lord Hutton of Bresagh - has provided the requisite pause or, more accurately, a desperately needed breathing space, for Blair, Alasdair Campbell and the British Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon. However, Hutton's appointment, to those who know of his previous dealings in relation to the Six Counties, is likely to raise further questions over what is already a very murky and puzzling ordeal.
Hoon is the man many believe is responsible for organising what one report called a "media strategy" for slipping Dr Kelly's name into the public domain. As Blair has consistently demonstrated during his tour of the Far East, the prospective inquiry allows him and his ministers to simply refuse to answer the difficult questions being thrown at them.
On the question of the inquiry itself, the British government has already tried to limit its scope to the immediate circumstances of Dr Kelly's death, rather than looking into the bigger issue of how the British parliament was duped into agreeing to the invasion of Iraq. Whether it succeeds remains to be seen, but the judge chosen to head the inquiry will be a familiar name to many in the Six Counties as a man with some form, particularly in respect of defending the interests of government.
72-year-old Lord Hutton of Bresagh was, in his former incarnation as Sir Brian Hutton, a high court judge from 1979 until 1988, when he became the Lord Chief Justice of the Six Counties. He was also the legal advisor to the Ministry of Home Affairs under the old Stormont government and, in that role, acted for the British government when it was called before the European Court of Human Rights, accused of the inhuman and degrading treatment of internees. In 1986 he acquitted the RUC police officer who killed Seán Downes with a plastic bullet fired at point blank range.
In 1999 Hutton, now a law lord, became involved in a case brought by two lawyers, Séamus Treacey and Barry MacDonald - both of whom currently represent the families of the Bloody Sunday victims at the Saville inquiry. Treacey and MacDonald mounted a legal objection to the requirement for all newly appointed QCs to make an oath of loyalty to the British monarch. Hutton wrote to the then British Attorney General, warning that, "If you decide to remove the requirement for a declaration it will appear that you are - being influenced by political pressure to alter the procedure relating to an office which links Northern Ireland with the Crown". Justice Kerr dismissed the case made by Treacey and MacDonald, citing Hutton's comments in his judgement.
Also in 1999, Hutton was one of the law lords who ruled that the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should receive immunity from arrest and extradition for crimes against humanity. During the case, Hutton criticised one of his fellow judges on the case, Lord Hoffman, for not declaring his links with Amnesty International.
Hutton was also involved in the case of David Shayler, the former MI5 agent. He and his colleagues ruled against Shayler's argument that he was acting in the public interest when he exposed the illegal activities of British intelligence forces, including collusion. Shayler was later jailed.