[FOUNTAIN]Truth, not lawsuitsBritish Prime Minister Tony Blair’s political fate is in the hands of 72-year-old Senior Justice Lord Hutton, who is leading the inquiry into the death of the British weapons expert David Kelly. Mr. Kelly had been quoted anonymously by the BBC in reports that Downing Street had distorted some of the information on Iraq’s weapons. Downing Street demanded an apology from the BBC for defamation and Mr. Kelly killed himself on July 18.
Mr. Blair immediately ordered an inquiry and named Lord Hutton to lead the investigation. Lord Hutton is known for maintaining strict neutrality and objectivity on the bench. His lean figure and sharp glance make him a judge not to cross. Born in a Protestant family in Northern Ireland, an ongoing hotbed of religious conflicts, and educated at Oxford, Lord Hutton started his legal career as an attorney in 1954, and was appointed as a judge in 1979. After he was promoted to Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland over a veteran Roman Catholic judge who was considered the stronger candidate, Lord Hutton has had his name at the top of assassination target lists by Catholic terrorist groups.
His favorite activities are reading and walking his dog. He is known to have dared to spend vacations on a beach in Northern Ireland, reading books on British law. His political neutrality won recognition when he ruled for the release of a Roman Catholic terrorist in 1992. The terrorist, who had been prosecuted on 22 charges, was confirmed to have been physically assaulted by the police in the process of interrogation, and Lord Hutton set him free because his testimony was forced.
Lord Hutton summoned Mr. Blair as a witness, as expected. A BBC reporter testified last week that he added his own speculation to the interview with Mr. Kelly, so BBC is more likely to be charged with defamation. The inquiry also showed that Downing Street had distorted data on Iraq’s weapons capability. Mr. Blair is determined to reveal the truth, even if it hurts his political career; Lord Hutton’s inquiry committee is not a legal one, but a buffer to avoid a confrontation.
The Asian Wall Street Journal advised in an editorial on Monday that President Roh Moo-hyun, who has filed libel suits against newspapers, should learn from Mr. Blair. Seeking the truth is a better strategy than libel suits, and a buffer is better than hostility.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.