The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Hutton Day One - the tone is set

In his opening statement on August 1, Lord Hutton adopted the words of the chairman of an earlier famous enquiry, Lord Scarman:
This Inquiry is to be conducted -- and I stress it -- by myself. This means that all the decisions have to be taken by me.

The first thing Hutton had to do was to set his own pace. The substance of his inquiry largely concerns two professions - in the loosest sense - with the attention-span of a gnat. Harold Wilson's
a week is a long time in politics
seems straight out of the horse-and-buggy era: these days, for week, read hour!

Hutton slows the game down right down. By the two-stage schedule of witnesses, for instance - the first round, straight testimony without cross-examination, the second picking up matters arising from the first, with witnesses having the opportunity to cross-examine. And, more than once during Day 1, we were told a witness would be coming back later in Stage 1 to answer questions on further elements of the matter.

By the welter of documents put to witnesses, in several cases, documents which counsel James Dingemans must have known the witness knew little or nothing about. In what till now has been a he said, she said, Hutton wants to establish himself on the foundation of written material. (It's where Dingemans is most comfortable, apparently.) Examination on documents is something even the hardest TV interviewers seldom if ever do: pols and journos won't be used to it. So it puts them under pressure, and underlines the fact that they are on Hutton's turf [1].

After a couple of months of this - a he said, she said but with a steno taking down all the particulars - the chances are pretty good that witnesses will have provided cross-examining counsel a truckload of material for Stage 2: discrepancies between witnesses, within a single witness's evidence, between oral evidence and documentation are pretty much inevitable....

The absence of direct broadcasts of proceedings also helps Hutton in keeping charge of proceedings. It makes the inquiry different from most spheres of public life, where cameras regularly go - and assimilates them to the one area where they regularly don't: court rooms. No doubt Hutton had visions of Judge Ito losing control of the OJ Simpson courtroom; worse, had visions of himself playing up to the cameras.

Who will the lack of cameras help more: Tony 'Mister Showbiz' Blair or Lord Hutton? Answers on a postcard...

Having read the Day 1 transcripts - morning and afternoon, there is nothing particularly striking that emerges beyond what was headlined yesterday - confirmation of disquiet within the UKIC on the September dossier [2] - Martin Howard, Chief of Defence Intelligence in the Ministry of Defence (page 131 line 6ff).

The visible results were as slight as those of the site of a major construction project after one day of work! Much of the evidence concerned points of information relating to the drafting of the September Dossier - on the workings of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and its relationship with the Cabinet Office Assessment Staff, for instance [3]; details of Kelly's employment history (did the Ming Dynasty mandarinate have a more arcane structure?) and his experience [4]; and similar bread and butter issues.

We've got six pieces in a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Not much for four of our earth hours; but, according to the Hutton calendar, a damned fine day's work!

[The online transcripts are, I surmise, lifted straight from the product of the stenographers (hence the unappealing layout and the line-breaks at the end of each line!). Each day starts on a new 'page 1', and comes in two HTML files, roughly, morning and afternoon. Around 70,000 words a day, four days a week - until further notice. Enjoy!]

  1. Government officials - civil servants - called are perhaps, as a breed, more suited, by temperament and experience, to cope with the Hutton technique than their political masters. Time will tell.

  2. The Guardian provides summaries of the evidence of each witness.

  3. Mentioned at p133 l7, for instance.

  4. HMG needs to suggest an alternative, mundane motive for suicide: the suggestion which seems to be being floated is that DK thought he had been shafted by the Whitehall Warriors whilst he was abroad doing his bit for King and Country. Ha!

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