Reviewed by Harriet
No one becomes a criminal barrister to make large sums of money. A criminal practice has always been the least well paid and of the lowest status at the Bar. Yet in my opinion the rewards are the greatest. You practice in circumstances that seriously affect your fellow human beings in their everyday lives. Your clients are of every kind, privileged or deprived, bewildered and weak, or streetwise and strong…You are privileged in your work; privileged because, first, it falls to you to uphold at all times the principles of justice and the rule of law, and second, unreservedly to uphold the interests of your client whose case becomes yours.
So writes Jeremy Hutchinson, QC, in the afterword to this account of some of his most famous trials, published in the year he turns 100. The cases he was involved in are some of the most famous of the twentieth century. He defended Christine Keeler in the notorious Profumo affair in 1963, and co-defended Penguin Books when they were prosecuted for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover. His other celebrated defences included that of Great Train robber Charlie Wilson, art ‘faker’ Tom Keating, and Howard Marks, who was acquitted of charges relating to the largest importation of cannabis in British history. He also succeeded in stopping the suppression of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, and fought the notorious anti-permissiveness campaigner Mary Whitehouse when she prosecuted the director of the National Theatre production of Romans in Britain.
So who was Jeremy Hutchinson, and where did his great liberal ideals originate from? Although not a biography, this books starts with a biographical sketch of Jeremy’s life. He was born in 1915, in an 18th-century house overlooking the river in Hammersmith. His father, St John (Jack) Hutchinson, was himself a barrister, and his mother Mary was Lytton Strachey’s cousin. Although not a conventional beauty, Mary Hutchinson was obviously a woman of huge charm and intelligence, who was Clive Bell’s mistress and supposedly Virginia Woolf’s inspiration for Mrs Dalloway. Dressed in clothes made and hand-painted at the Omega Workshop, she would lead her two children through the back streets of Hammersmith, ignoring the shouts of the locals: ‘Here comes the Queen of Sheba!’ TS Eliot was a family friend, as was Aldous Huxley. Jeremy went to public school, to Oxford, and studied for the bar, though his full entry into the legal profession was delayed by the outbreak of war – he was to spend seven years in the Royal Navy, during which he also met and married the celebrated Shakespearean actress Peggy Ashcroft. At the end of the war he stood as the Labour candidate for a rock-solid Tory seat in Westminster, but rather to his relief was not elected – it was time to plunge into the law. He formally gave up his legal practice in 1984, at the age of nearly 70, but continued for many years to be deeply engaged in debates in the House of Lords, of which he had become a member in 1978 when he was created Lord Hutchinson of Lullington.
The major part of this book is of course devoted to accounts of the cases themselves. Hutchinson’s defence speeches often contained memorable lines, such as the one he gave in the 1955 trial of Professor Michael Oakeshott, who was reported to the police for having bathed naked on a Dorset camping holiday:
You can wear a bikini on Brighton beach for all to see you. You can stand naked on the London stage without any offence to the law. But if you are a forgetful professor sitting in your tent unclothed, you do in fact commit an offence against common law should anyone happen to see you.
In this instance, his wit did not go down well with the conservative tribunal trying the case, and actually delayed the conclusion of the case. But his speech in defence of Christine Keeler, whose involvement in a scandal nearly overthrew the government, was described at the time as one of the most brilliant ever heard at the Old Bailey. The triumphantly successful defence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is well-known, but the case itself makes very entertaining reading, and Hutchinson’s gentle questioning of the defence witnesses was clearly exemplary, as it continued to be in the trials of several other ‘obscene’ books.
Less well remembered but equally fascinating is the account of the 1979 trial of the art forger Tom Keating. A more or less self-taught picture restorer, Keating had the facility of producing what he called pastiches of the works of well-known painters, which he then sold through various means as genuine. These activities were discovered and revealed by an art critic, who soon became a staunch supporter of the painter, who constantly asserted that he did it not to make money but to show up the greed of the art market. Hutchinson undertook his defence, but in fact Keating had a serious accident while the trial was in progress, and the prosecution decided to drop the charges. Happily for Keating, he was now famous and was able to sell his paintings openly under his own name. Equally readable is the story of the trial of the drug smuggler Howard Marks, involving among other things members of the Mexican Secret Service who refused to give their names even in a closed court.
I could go on, but you get the general idea. It actually feels like quite an honour to get a glimpse of the life and work of this distinguished and obviously completely delightful man. The last word, written in the month of his 100th birthday, should certainly go to him:
My profession has given me the most rewarding, enthralling and happy working life and I am sad to write this valediction. My words may be described by some people as those of a ‘foolish, fond old man; the silence of the senior judiciary and in particular of the Lord Chief Justices gives some credence to this view. Nevertheless I hope that this book will interest and amuse the reader – and be a warning too.
Harriet Devine is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.
Thomas Grant, Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories (John Murray: London, 2015). 9781444799736, 418pp., hardback.
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