Forwarded from Richard Harris
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 26 09:49:08 MDT 2003
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”
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
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:
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.)
(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
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