In June I attended a conversation between the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger and the 100-years-young Jeremy Hutchinson QC. The event also served as a launch for the latter’s casebook.
It brought home to us all how much Jeremy Hutchinson had come to represent. He and others of a similar calibre made real the vigorous defence of the vulnerable, the unpopular – the ‘other’ deemed unworthy by the state.
Not so long ago those who defended ‘criminals’ were disdained even by their own professional colleagues. In Hutchinson’s day there was no obvious career path from the so often anti-establishment causes that gravitated towards him.
Many were the judges who, when their paths crossed, would make their displeasure well known to this supreme and sublime spirit. He cared not a fig for such opprobrium. In the 1960s and 1970s, he broke the back of many attempts by the establishment to deprive us all of our entitlements to know and to think for ourselves.
As a peer, many was the time that he thwarted the passage of illiberal measures through that chamber. I was once able to feed him a line. Jack Straw had confided to a meeting of senior criminal justice managers his decision to do away with jury trial in middle-ranking cases.
Straw had forgotten that there had been lawyers present. In a Lords debate on the proposed changes, Hutchinson was able to say: ‘Or did the cat leap out of the bag at a meeting on 2 February this year, when Jack Straw declared that he had decided to do away with jury trial to prevent defendants from choosing a jury so as to take Human Rights Act points?’
We won that particular round, but those still yearning for our subservience merely bide their time. These attacks re-emerge and our vigilance is essential.
Hutchinson pointed with customary clarity to the savaging of legal aid provision and, indeed, the ever more sustained assaults upon the rule of law and due process. These are concepts which our government can no longer spell, let alone understand or espouse.
And what does Hutchinson tell us? ‘They have no sense of history.’
Malcolm Fowler, Dennings, Tipton