An application by Dennis Hutchings for Judicial Review


[2019] UKSC 26

Supreme Court

Trinity Term

On appeal from: [2017] NIQB 121


Lord Reed, Deputy President

Lord Kerr

Lady Black

Lord Lloyd-Jones

Lord Sales

In the matter of an application by Dennis Hutchings for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland)


James Lewis QC

Ian Turkington

(Instructed by McCartan Turkington Breen)


Gerald Simpson QC

Richard Shields

(Instructed by Public Prosecution Service)

Heard on 14 March 2019

Lord Kerr

( with whom Lord Reed, Lady Black, Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lord Sales agree)


On Saturday 15 June 1974, in the late morning, an army patrol consisting of two military vehicles was travelling towards Benburb, County Tyrone. The vehicles contained members of the Life Guards regiment. The lead vehicle had six men on board. The commander of the patrol, who was travelling in that vehicle, was Dennis Hutchings, the appellant in this case.


As the patrol rounded a left-hand bend near a village called Eglish on what was a winding road, a young man came into view, standing on the left-hand side of the road. He appeared to be looking into the hedge at the side of the road. His name was John Paul Cunningham. Mr Cunningham appeared startled and confused. He ran across the road in front of the lead vehicle and climbed a gate into a neighbouring field. He then ran towards a metal fence which bordered the field.


The patrol came to a halt on the appellant's command. Most of the soldiers dismounted from the vehicles and took up defensive positions. Three members of the patrol, the appellant and two others, who have been referred to as B and E, pursued Mr Cunningham. Mr Hutchings and soldier E went towards the same gate that Mr Cunningham had climbed over. Soldier B went to a gateway further down the road. A number of shouted commands to Mr Cunningham to stop went unheeded. It later transpired that he had limited intellectual capacity. His mental age was judged to be between six and ten years. In a report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) (of which more below at para 9) it was said that he “was easily confused and may have had an inherent fear of men in uniform and armoured vehicles”.


The case made by the prosecution is that when Mr Cunningham failed to stop, shots were discharged by the appellant and the soldier referred to as B. Mr Cunningham was hit and died at the scene. At the time that he fell, he was close to the metal fence. It has been established that he was running towards his home. HET concluded, after investigation, that he was unarmed; that he was shot while running away from the soldiers; and that there was no evidence that he presented a threat to them or to anyone else.


In 1974 there was much terrorist activity in Northern Ireland. A large part of that activity was generated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). There were regular attacks on the security forces, including the British Army. The attacks frequently involved the use of firearms and explosives.


The Life Guards regiment was responsible in 1974 for security force operations in Cookstown, Dungannon and Armagh and surrounding districts. Cookstown and Dungannon are in County Tyrone, as are Benburb and Eglish. Benburb is some 18 miles from Cookstown and about eight miles from Dungannon. Eglish is a small village that lies between Dungannon and Benburb. It is about five miles from Dungannon to Eglish and approximately the same distance from Eglish to Benburb. An army report about the time that Mr Cunningham was killed stated that the threat level in these areas was particularly high. There were frequent army patrols of the roads between these various locations. Indeed, in the first two weeks of June 1974 some 38% of shooting incidents in the Life Guards' operational zone occurred in the area of Eglish. One of those attacks resulted in the death of a soldier in the Life Guards regiment.


Two days before Mr Cunningham was killed, members of the Life Guards, under the command of Mr Hutchings, came upon a group of men loading material into a vehicle. A “firefight”, as it was described in the reports of the incident, ensued. Arms and explosives were discovered in the vehicle. This had occurred about three and a half miles from where Mr Cunningham was killed.


Following the killing of Mr Cunningham, a joint inquiry by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Royal Military Police took place. The then Director of Public Prosecutions reviewed the statements that this inquiry generated and decided that there should be no prosecution of any of the military personnel involved.


HET was a body created in 2005 to examine historical offences that were committed during the period of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland and the state's reaction to it. It conducted an inquiry into Mr Cunningham's death. It concluded that this was “an absolute tragedy that should not have happened”. It recommended, however, that no further action be taken in relation to the incident.


In 2015 a new body, the Legacy Investigation Branch, conducted a new investigation into Mr Cunningham's death. As a result of this, the appellant was arrested and taken to a police station in Northern Ireland where he was interviewed. He answered “no comment” to all questions put to him. He was subsequently charged with two offences: the attempted murder of Mr Cunningham and attempting to cause him grievous bodily harm.


On 20 April 2016, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a certificate pursuant to section 1 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 directing that the appellant stand trial on these charges by a judge sitting without a jury. It is accepted that the certificate was issued without prior notice to the appellant. He was not given an opportunity to make representations as to whether it should be issued. The material and information which led to the issue of the certificate have not been disclosed to him. He was not informed of its having been issued until 5 May 2017.

The statutory provisions relating to the issue of certificates and challenges to their issue

The relevant parts of section 1 of the 2007 Act are these:

“Issue of certificate

(1) This section applies in relation to a person charged with one or more indictable offences (‘the defendant’).

(2) The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland may issue a certificate that any trial on indictment of the defendant (and of any person committed for trial with the defendant) is to be conducted without a jury if —

(a) he suspects that any of the following conditions is met, and

(b) he is satisfied that in view of this there is a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired if the trial were to be conducted with a jury.

(6) Condition 4 is that the offence or any of the offences was committed to any extent (whether directly or indirectly) as a result of, in connection with or in response to religious or political hostility of one person or group of persons towards another person or group of persons.

(7) In subsection (6) ‘religious or political hostility’ means hostility based to any extent on —

(a) religious belief or political opinion,

(b) supposed religious belief or political opinion, or

(c) the absence or supposed absence of any, or any particular, religious belief or political opinion.

(8) In subsection (6) the references to persons and groups of persons need not include a reference to the defendant or to any victim of the offence or offences.”


The breadth of the power to direct that a trial be before a judge without a jury is immediately apparent from these provisions. The Director need only suspect that one of the stipulated conditions (in this case condition 4) is met and that there is a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired if there was a jury trial. The circumstances in which such a risk might materialise and the specific nature of the risk or the impairment to the administration of justice which might be occasioned are not specified. It can only be supposed that these matters were deliberately left open-ended. The type of decision which the Director must take can be of the instinctual, impressionistic kind. Whilst the Director must of course be able to point to reasons for his decision, one can readily envisage that it may frequently not be based on hard evidence but on unverified intelligence or suspicions, or on general experience. It may partake of supposition and prediction of a possible outcome, rather than a firm conclusion drawn from established facts.


The need, on occasions, for the Director's decision to depend on intuitive belief rather than studied analysis of evidence is also reflected in the fact that the circumstances covered by condition 4 are extremely wide. Offences committed to any extent (even if indirectly) in connection with or in response to religious or political hostility of one person or group of persons are covered. The PIRA campaign in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was based on that organisation's political hostility to continuing British rule in that country. The incident that occurred a few days before Mr Cunningham was killed bore all the hallmarks of a PIRA operation. When this is considered with the incidence of terrorist activity in the area at the time, it is entirely unsurprising that the Director should have concluded that the offences with which the appellant is charged were connected (directly or indirectly) with or in response to the political hostility of members of PIRA against, as the Director put it in an affidavit, “those who believed that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom”. That the soldiers who fired on Mr Cunningham suspected that he was a member of PIRA seems inescapable. (I shall have more to say presently about the Director's reasons for issuing the certificate.)


Section 7 of the Act provides:

“Limitation on...

To continue reading