Brian Hutton, the judge who hung the BBC out to dry over the David Kelly inquiry is a former highly respected chief justice of Northern Ireland and regarded as a great trial judge by lawyers. However, the inquiry findings he made may now have left his reputation in tatters. How so?

Hutton cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair but castigated the BBC and appeared to have damaged his own reputation on Thursday as fellow members of the British establishment questioned his judgement.

Hutton led an inquiry into the suicide in July of David Kelly, the arms expert at the centre of a row over a BBC report that Blair deliberately exaggerated the case for invading Iraq.

Hutton on Wednesday exonerated Blair, his aides and the defence ministry but said the BBC’s claims were unfounded and its editorial procedures defective – a finding that prompted the immediate resignation of BBC chairperson Gavyn Davies.

‘I want to book Lord Hutton now as a trial judge’
The verdict on Hutton himself ranged from complaints that he interpreted his remit too narrowly, to the charge of double standards.

Tongue-in-cheek, former cabinet minister Robin Cook, who resigned over the decision to invade Iraq, told the daily Independent: “If ever I am up in court on a serious charge, I want to book Lord Hutton now as a trial judge.”

The “fastidious” Hutton had used such “impeccable standards of proof” that it was inevitable he would clear the prime minister of blame, said Cook, a former foreign secretary under Blair.

Davies’s predecessor at the BBC, Christopher Bland, the current chairperson of British Telecom, questioned the judge’s impartiality.

“He whitewashed the government, and maybe he was right to do that, but he tarred and feathered the BBC and there just seems to be a real imbalance in his treatment,” Bland told a television interviewer.

‘He whitewashed the government’
Anthony Scrivener, a former chairperson of the Bar, the professional courtroom lawyers’ association, described Hutton to the Guardian as “a conventional conservative, with a small ‘c’, judge.”

The newspaper quoted another senior lawyer and member of the House of Lords, Anthony Lester, as saying Hutton was “a great trial judge, impeccable in his factual findings,” but one unversed in “the wider constitutional issues.”

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