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Jeremy Hutchinson, the pioneering defence lawyer who was a champion of liberty throughout his long career, has died at the grand old age of 102. 

His father, John Hutchinson, was a King’s Counsel, while his mother, Mary Barnes, was close to the Bloomsbury Group. After graduating from Oxford in 1939, Jeremy enlisted in the Navy. A year later he married actress Peggy Ashcroft, and in 1946, he returned to the Bar under the tutelage of James Burge. Both men would become models for Horace Rumpole, hero of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey. In 1955, Hutchinson represented the Belgian government in a fruitless attempt to extradite Emil Savundra for a fraud committed in Antwerp.

In 1960, he successfully defended Penguin Books in a landmark obscenity trial over their publication of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A year later he ‘took the silk’ and was appointed a Queen’s Counsel. He then acted for the defence in two spy cases, involving George Blake and John Vassall.

In July 1963, Jeremy’s former mentor, James Burge, defended Dr Stephen Ward in court, at the height of the Profumo Affair. Mervyn Griffith-Jones, an ultra-conservative who had opposed Jeremy in the Chatterley trial, once again acted for the prosecution. Despite their very different views on society, Hutchinson would send his old adversary a letter of congratulations when he was made a judge in 1964. Griffith-Jones replied, “Bless you for your letter – I cried.”

Jeremy would also be involved in the Profumo Affair’s final act, defending Christine Keeler in her perjury trial after her former lover, Lucky Gordon, successfully appealed against a serious assault conviction. (Gordon also died earlier this year, aged eighty-five.)

Keeler had been involved in a violent, obsessive relationship with Gordon for several months when the news broke of her earlier affair with War Minister John Profumo. While staying with her friend Paula in April 1963, she had a fight with Paula’s brother, John Hamilton-Marshall, leaving her with a black eye and several bruises. Later that night, two other men, Rudolph ‘Truello’ Fenton and Clarence Commachio, were with her in the flat when Lucky Gordon arrived. He allegedly lunged at a terrified Christine, who fell to the ground, and the two men held him back until he agreed to go. Keeler called the police, reportedly pinning her prior injuries onto Gordon in a desperate bid to get him off her back.

Some historians have speculated that the entire incident was orchestrated by the police, but Jeremy dismissed this theory. In June, Profumo admitted his affair with Christine and resigned, while Lucky Gordon – after a rambling self-defence in which he accused her of giving him venereal disease – was convicted of grievous bodily harm. In July, as Stephen Ward’s trial for living of immoral earnings drew to an end, Ward committed suicide. Jeremy’s old pupil master James Burge was haunted by the case, which is now widely considered a miscarriage of justice. Jeremy would later describe it as a “revenge match” for the Chatterley trial, and “the last fling of the establishment.”

One of the many prominent men named during the trial was Emil Savundra, who was said to have visited Mandy Rice-Davies at Ward’s flat on several occasions. The so-called ‘Indian doctor’ (Savundra was actually Sri Lankan, and not a doctor) would finally be jailed for fraud in 1968.

Gordon’s appeal was heard while Ward’s trial was still ongoing, which drew widespread criticism. Lord Justice Parker received statements from Clarence Commachio and John Hamilton-Marshall, as well as a taped confession from Keeler. But, perhaps mindful of her being a prosecution witness in Ward’s trial, Parker insisted that her evidence had not been untruthful.

Christine’s perjury trial, which took place in December 1963, is the subject of a full chapter in Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories, the 2015 book by Thomas Grant, written with Jeremy’s co-operation. All heads turned as Keeler – “the most recognisable face in England at the time” – arrived for her first meeting at Jeremy’s chambers. “What sticks most forcefully in my mind is the disparity between her porcelain, mask-like looks, still undeniably beautiful, and her voice,” he recalled. “It was the voice of a person who had lived many years longer than her twenty-one years and who seemed to have grown entirely weary of life. It was a voice which had lost any joy in life.”

“The Profumo Affair has been painted as one of the first eruptions of the swinging sixties. I saw it as anything but,” Hutchinson remarked. “The history of the previous two years was one of sleaziness not sexiness.”

Keeler admitted to lying by omission in not mentioning the presence of Fenton and Commachio that evening, but the prosecution accepted her not-guilty plea to the charge that she had lied about Gordon assaulting her, as he may have been partially responsible for her injuries. But the real challenge lay in convincing the jury that she was far from the ‘vampiric harpy’ of tabloid lore.

“There are people, and wicked people, who want to see this young woman – let me say it quite simply – sent away,” Jeremy told Judge Anthony Hawke. He depicted Ward, her former mentor, as “a sort of perverted Professor Higgins,” and Keeler as “straightforward and curiously naive.” In his 1964 book, The Trial of Stephen Ward, Ludovic Kennedy noted that Hutchinson’s moralistic tone was not dissimilar to that of Mervyn Griffith-Jones.

“And now, I know, Your Lordship will resist the temptation for what I might call society’s pound of flesh,” he concluded. Judge Hawke sentenced Christine to nine months’ imprisonment. She had been expecting two years. Hutchinson’s speech has been hailed as one of the most brilliant (and longest) ever heard at the Bailey. For her part, Keeler was one of his only clients not to keep in touch. Understandably embittered by the whole affair, she may have perceived his sympathy as condescension.   

After twenty-five years and two children, Jeremy’s marriage to Peggy Ashcroft ended in divorce. He married June Osborn in 1966, and they stayed together for forty years. He also remained on good terms with his first wife, arranging a memorial service after her death in 1991.  

Hutchinson was much in demand with authors and playwrights who challenged social taboos during the next decade, from the unexpurgated paperback reissue of John Cleland’s 18th Century erotic novel, Fanny Hill, to Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial film, Last Tango in Paris. He defended Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson, faced off Mary Whitehouse in another censorship trial, and won an acquittal for Howard Marks in a sensational case relating to the largest importation of cannabis in British history.

He was made a life peer in 1978, becoming Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, the Sussex village where he kept a home. He sat in the House of Lords for the Labour Party, which he had joined in 1936 after seeing the Jarrow strikers march on Piccadilly. In 1945, he had stood for Labour in the Westminster by-election. By 1981, however, he had followed his friend Roy Jenkins in defecting to the SDP (and later, the Liberals.)

After retiring from the Bar in 1984, he focused on the arts (he was a Chairman of the Tate Gallery); and also on probation work, including campaigns for lighter sentencing. In his final speech to the House of Lords in 2001, he criticised the ban on fox-hunting; then in 2013, he warned about cuts to legal aid. These divergent positions show him as a man who respected tradition, but was also a great moderniser. Jeremy Hutchinson was a progressive force in twentieth century Britain, and in an uncertain new era, we can only hope that his beneficence will not be forgotten.