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Northern Ireland judiciary pays tribute to 'fearless' Lord Hutton


Baron Hutton had a long and distinguished career

Baron Hutton had a long and distinguished career

Baron Hutton had a long and distinguished career

The late Lord Hutton "fearlessly" led Northern Ireland's judiciary through some of the worst years of the Troubles, former colleagues recalled on Monday.

Recognition was also given to the global significance of his legal work during tributes at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

Baron Brian Hutton, who died in July aged 89, served at Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland between 1989 and 1997.

He went to be appointed a Law Lord, and famously chaired the inquiry into the death of Iraqi weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

At a ceremony to mark the start of the new legal year, three senior judicial figures who succeeded him as Chief Justice in Northern Ireland praised his huge contribution.

Lord Kerr described him as "scrupulously fair-minded" and a man of "unswerving integrity" at a time when judges were IRA targets.

Appearing remotely due to Covid-19 restrictions, Lord Kerr told those gathered: "He was, moreover, a man of great courage and steadfastness.

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"He led the judiciary in Northern Ireland during a period of great peril, and he did so with the utmost fearlessness.

"He made a massive contribution to the law of this country, and the importance of his judgments is felt throughout the common law world."

Born in Belfast and educated at Oxford University before returning to his native city to continue his law studies at Queen's University, Lord Hutton was called to the Nothern Ireland bar in 1954.

In 1969 he prosecuted Bernadette Devlin, the Independent MP for Mid-Ulster at the time, on charges connected to riots in Derry's Bogside.

He later represented the Ministry of Defence at the 1972 inquest into the killing of civil rights marchers on Bloody Sunday in the city.
Decades later he was chosen to head the investigation into events surrounding the death of Dr Kelly.

The scientist was found dead in July 2003 after being identified as the source of a BBC report which claimed the Labour Government had "sexed up" a dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Hutton exonerated the then Prime Minister Tony Blair over the dossier, and also concluded that Dr Kelly had taken his own life.

Another former colleague, Lord Carswell, paid tribute to how he had handled the controversial and high-profile inquiry.

"His integrity was such that he would be outraged at any attempt to influence him," Lord Carswell said.

Those in attendance, including wife Lady Hutton and daughters Helen and Louise, were told about the other side to the austere public persona.

Lord Kerr stressed his love of funny anecdotes, recalling how he would at times be in convulsions of laughter before delivering the punch line.

"The essence of Brian's character (was) a terrific sense of humour and endless tolerance," he said.

Northern Ireland's current Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, was equally fulsome.

"We all in this jurisdiction owe a debt of gratitude to Brian for his public service in enormously difficult times," Sir Declan said.

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