A 3RB tribute to Jeremy Hutchinson

So much has justifiably been written about Jeremy since his death that we felt it appropriate not simply to repeat the same material in a tribute here, but to ask some of those former members of our chambers who practised with him to put pen to paper. Their thoughts, in no particular order, appear below. My own memory of him will always be his ringing me up out of the blue, in his mid-nineties (I did not know him well; I was called to the bar after he had retired), wanting to know from me, as the head of his former chambers, what on earth the criminal bar generally and his chambers particularly, were doing about, amongst other things, the changes to the Legal Aid system, solicitor advocates, silk only certificates and graduated fees. He invited me to his house for tea and we discussed it all at length. It was both a joy and a privilege.

Johnny Nutting

Jeremy Hutchinson was the greatest criminal advocate in England during the last half of the 20th century. Why is it that no one with any knowledge of the topic would dispute that fact, even his contemporaries and rivals, most of whom, sadly, are now dead? I think the answer lies in four aspects of his personality which made him stand out from other silks of his generation.

The first was his courage. He was absolutely fearless in pursuit of the interests of his client. No one, not a witness, not his opponent, not the Judge, deflected him. However momentous the allegation, Jeremy presented the defence, often implausible, sometimes fanciful, with complete dedication.

The second was his presence. No one in my time at the Bar dominated a courtroom as Jeremy did. He was helped of course by his height and by his looks, but as a case progressed the Jury became almost mesmerised by his deep long drawling voice, his uncanny ability to hone in on a witness’s weakness and his striking capacity to turn a telling point made by the prosecution to his client’s advantage.

The third was his wit. No one punctured the Establishment better than Jeremy did. It was never done with the bludgeon, always with the rapier. He would have been appalled to have been considered part of the Establishment, but his attacks on it, on its entrenched interests, its obsolete pomposities, and its careless, sometimes cruel, insouciance, coming from someone with Jeremy’s lineage and education, made his attacks all the more effective.

Who in court (and I was) will ever forget his description of the civil servants concerned in the Sunday Telegraph Secrets Trial? ‘Those old hens…..fluttering to their traditional deep litter bin, the Official Secrets Act.’

The fourth was his conscientiousness. If genius, as some hold, is the infinite capacity for taking trouble, then Jeremy can claim that accolade. When in silk he would appear regularly in what he used to call, with outmoded but teasing irony, the ‘Police Court’ to test an important witness at committal proceedings in a case in which he had been briefed at trial. No one burned more midnight oil before an important cross examination or speech. No one gave more careful thought to how a point could be made most effectively, what words to use to create a memorable image for the Jury.

When I read of Jeremy’s death at his tremendous age, I thought of the tribute of the Observer’s columnist after the death of Sir Winston Churchill. ‘We were not sad and we did not weep for that would not be fitting for great old men…..but because he was us at our best we gave him a requiem which rejected death and was almost a rejoicing.’

Colin Nicholls

My brother and I enjoyed the privilege of being in chambers in Queen Elizabeth Building with Jeremy for 27 years. Accommodation was sparse and we had the habit of using his room for conferences after court when he was not there. Being the understanding person he was, he never complained.

My lasting memory of him in court is being led by him in 1972 in the appeal of Christopher Swabey, a Lieutenant-Commander in the Navy, who was wrongly court martialled for indecent assault by putting his hand on the knee of a sub-lieutenant in a taxi after a night out in Malta. Swabey had fought for 16 years to prove his innocence with three debates in the House of Lords in what has been described as “one of the longest legal sagas of the twentieth century”. The Court Martials Appeals Court was presided over by the Chief Justice Lord Widgery. Jeremy’s opponent was the Irishman James Comyn QC, a similarly great advocate and one of the loveliest of men. Vital evidence had been excluded from the trial and the case was effectively re-tried, much against the Admiralty’s wishes. The appeal lasted three days. Jeremy won. The conviction was declared unsatisfactory and unsafe and the appeal was allowed. A miscarriage of justice, not unlike that immortalised in The Winslow Boy, had been righted, but at great personal loss to Swabey. Jeremy was at his finest: limitless preparation – I spent hours with him in his room. Another blow to the Establishment, and as always, consummate advocacy.

My brother and I had the privilege of taking him a gift from Chambers to celebrate his 100th birthday. We took with us Chambers’ then youngest tenant to ensure she could say she had met the great man.

David Whitehouse

For a very young tenant in my first big trial, it was sheer bliss to see Jeremy at work: a magnificent masterclass in oratory, in style, in analysis of the evidence, and in standing up to the judge in every sense. I will never forget him rising like an Anglepoise lamp to his full six foot three, puce with patrician rage, as he protested at some unjust ruling of the judge.

Less than a year later I found myself being led by him. For the first time I saw that his mastery of the evidence was the result of painstaking preparation. And whenever there was a break or adjournment we would troop off to a consultation room. “Come on, David” he would say, “let’s improve the shining hour, like the busy bee”. Or if some some ghastly unexpected point against us had been made, he would always look for, and usually find, a way of turning it to our advantage.
He was capable of scintillating legal argument. The point of statutory construction which won us the Last Tango in Paris case and which was upheld in the Court of Appeal (AG Reference Number 2 of 1976) is a very clever and subtle argument which required the Court to rule that Widgery LCJ was wrong in law.

Richard Beckett

What I admired most (and I admired Jeremy from childhood) was his lifelong commitment to what he regarded as the central planks upon which criminal trials depend, namely the right to trial by jury, the independence of the judiciary and, above all, the right of everyone charged with a serious criminal offence to have access to courageous professional representation. Noticeably he fought for all three of those principles until the very end of his long life.

23rd November 2017