Forwarded from Richard Harris

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 26 09:49:08 MDT 2003


Gary said:

Could the British comrades begin a thread discussing how they think the 
Hutton Inquiry is progressing? Tariq Ali when he was here in Brisbane 
said that he had no idea which way Hutton would go and that the 
divisions within the ruling class were such that an honest inquiry could 
not be ruled out in an a priori fashion.

_____________________________

I'm not sure I'm up to starting a thread. But I think Tariq is right.

There is no reason why the British establishment should bail out Blair, 
just so long as the system itself remains untarnished. A decision to 
dump him would be an opportunity to separate the UK from US policy in 
Iraq. That would be the point of dumping him. I can’t tell if key forces 
want that or not.

However, there are many in the Government who must be thrilling with 
this chance to end him (Gordon Brown, the Chancellor i.e. Finance 
Minister, springs to mind.)

But is it reasonable to be so conspiratorial? Do judges act with the 
establishment interest in the forefront of their mind?

The Irish cases are a shameful story of British judicial covering up. 
The Bloody Sunday inquiries to start with. And then the liberal 
reforming judge Lord Denning. He notoriously said about those Irish 
convicted of the Guilford pub bombing:

If “they had been hanged, they would have been forgotten and the whole 
community would have been satisfied”

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/1991/05/05p10b.htm

Of course, Hutton is taking place in the full blaze of publicity. If his 
report is a whitewash, I bet that will be pointed out. The purpose of 
the inquiry will then be lost. Hutton’s reputation will be irretrievably 
damaged. As it is, Hutton is allowing into evidence material well beyond 
the narrow focus he could have chosen given his brief, to investigate 
the death of David Kelly.

Which brings us to another point. In England an inquest his held into 
unusual deaths. This is an inquiry conducted in public by a judicial 
officer, the Coroner. Relatives of deceased persons are frequently 
frustrated by inquests, as Coroners usually stop them using the inquest 
to trawl for evidence relevant to later criminal or civil proceedings 
i.e. trying to find out who was to blame. The inquest is there simply to 
declare the death to be unlawful, an accident (misadventure), by natural 
causes and so on. An inquest has formally started into the death of 
David Kelly. It has been adjourned due to Hutton.

Now is the Hutton Inquiry primarily a glossy inquest? The Lord 
Chancellor, Lord Falconer, ordered Oxfordshire coroner Nicholas Gardiner 
to adjourn the inquest citing Section 17A of the Coroners Act 1988, 
which allows a public inquiry chaired or conducted by a judge to "fulfil 
the function of an inquest".

This might explain an odd aspect of the proceedings, the little pressure 
put upon any of the witnesses by counsel. There are two aspects to this 
point.

First, witnesses are before the inquiry for a very brief period of time. 
Compare the typical one or two hours of a Hutton witness with this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2003/08_august/04/its_my_story.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/itsmystory_damilola.shtml

The trial of those accused of murdering Damilola Taylor was a criminal 
proceeding. It's tough on the witnesses. The defence are given a full 
opportunity to challenge the prosecution witnesses, even if the witness 
is a child.

Second, in English proceedings witnesses are usually cross-examined i.e. 
questioned by legal counsel of any parties their evidence damages. 
Counsel’s cross-examination is aimed at testing the witness's 
reliability (How could you have hear that when you were so far away?) 
and credibility (Mr Witness, everything you have told the court this 
afternoon is a tissue of lies, is it not?) In day to day proceedings 
before the courts, brutal cross-examinations are seen. The English 
system depends on such evidence testing.

Now inquests are not adversarial. Is that what explains the witness 
strategy before Lord Hutton? It is odd to me, as the rest of the system 
relies on robustness: this is a 'fight to the death', as one opponent 
counsel said to me recently before we went into an Employment Tribunal 
(a labour court.) If you have robustness in Employment Tribunals, why 
not robustness before Hutton? Who is testing these people's evidence in 
the time honoured manner of the English courts (look again at the 
Damilola Taylor case. That is the usual flavour.)

http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/

(Then go to hearing transcripts. Choose a witness e.g. Godric Smith 20th 
August. He is someone with a lot of explaining to do. Look at his 
evidence. An example is page 172, questions to discover who made the 
decision to out David Kelly’s name to the press. Does this look limp, or 
what? The whole examination shows counsel’s mastery of the material, and 
the witness, a PM’s official spokesman, is taken firmly through the 
materials. But his often wet answers are never challenged. And if the 
witness were well prepared (!), surviving that would be easy. Having 
said that, lawyers always know that you must never make up your mind on 
what is going on until the proceedings come to a close. Counsel might 
use Smith’s answers to devastating effect with another witness (? some 
hope?))

Richard.

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