Non-fiction Book of the Month: Jeremy Hutchinson's Case Histories
The story of Jeremy Hutchinson is, in many ways, a story about language. Wittgenstein wrote “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. In Jeremy Hitchinson's Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley's Lover to Howard Marks, we meet barrister Jeremy Hutchinson, a man who realised that the limits of the modern world could be tested by the limits of language alone.
Jeremy Hutchinson was one of Britain’s greatest criminal barristers, who fought the most infamous court cases of the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties. Known for the exuberance and humour he injected into the proceedings, his court cases were described as the “best show in town” by The Observer.
He was drawn to defend the rogues and the rule-breakers; he famously defended Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Christine Keeler in the Profumo Affair, and a man responsible for stealing a Goya from the National Gallery in protest that the money would have been better spent on care for the elderly.
Each case history is a piece of irresistible theatre. Hutchinson is the hero of these narratives, defending rebels like Howard Marks from the staid, conservative establishment. His intelligence shines through his precise, quick questions that direct the action at a relentless pace. Often, it could be argued, Hutchinson won cases by his eloquence alone – he outsmarted the opposition by clever twists of linguistic logic. In the Last Tango in Paris case for example, he argued the film could not be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act as it was delivered to cinemas in closed canisters, and had therefore never technically been ‘published’. At times, his arguments could seem to be over-reaching, silly even, but even those moments, in retrospect, look like astute game-playing.
Born a hundred years ago, Hutchinson grew up in a very literary family, surrounded by the Bloomsbury group. Virginia Woolf is said to have based Mrs Dalloway on his mother, Mary Hutchinson, and his father was a close friend of D. H. Lawrence. Perhaps it is little wonder then that he used language with such dexterity and style in his life.
To read Jeremy Hutchinson Case Histories, and watch his successful arguments alter British law, case by case, then to see society become more inclusive and more permissive as a result, is to realise criminal barristers are extraordinarily influential; or at least, this one was. Hutchinson shaped modern British society enormously - and primarily, he used Bard-like wordplay and wit.