The Jeremy Hutchinson QC archive: Britain’s foremost criminal barrister

By Alexander Taylor

Hello, it’s Alexander with the second in a series of three blog posts on the Jeremy Hutchinson QC archive. This one will highlight Jeremy’s illustrious career at the Bar as one of Britain’s most formidable advocates. The legal material is diverse and covers Jeremy’s legal cases from 1945 to 1982 and is inclusive of the infamous obscenity and espionage cases he counselled. Alongside a celebrity clientele that included George Blake, Christine Keeler, Thomas Keating, and Dennis Howard Marks, Jeremy assisted everyday people with their legal challenges throughout his career. What we have in the archive are the records that Jeremy chose to keep and includes correspondence, notebooks, photographs, and extensive legal documents.

A pile of photos showing Jeremy Hutchinson. All are in black and white. Some show family photos. The largest three are pos ed portraits showing Hutchinson wearing a Naval uniform, a suit and tie, and the wig and bands of a QC.
Photographs of Jeremy Hutchinson QC. Uncatalogued.

Jeremy was born in London in 1915 to St John and Mary Hutchinson (whose papers were examined in a previous blog). His childhood was entirely idyllic and spent between his parents’ upmarket properties across the south of England, including River House in Hammersmith and Eleanor House in West Wittering, Sussex. His formative years were spent at Earleywood preparatory school in Berkshire and Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. He completed his studies at Magdalen College, Oxford, studying Modern Greats (now Philosophy, Politics, and economics) where he graduated in 1937. Jeremy remarked that he was ‘no great scholar’, and while this avowal of humility was testimony to Jeremy’s self-effacing character, his eminent legal career that developed throughout the twentieth century was incomparable.

Following his call to the Bar in the Middle Temple in 1939, Jeremy served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II. It was in 1945 when stationed at Caserta in Italy that he was briefed with his first prosecution case at the age of 25 against William (Bob) Croft, an English sailor accused of murdering Canadian Private Joe McGilvray. The records for this case include crime scene photographs, charge sheets, summaries of evidence and correspondence that provide an invaluable insight into the trial. Jeremy presented the case in the baroque surroundings of a room in the San Carlo Opera House in Naples where Croft was found guilty of murdering McGilvray. He was subsequently executed by a Marines firing squad at Naples on 14th April 1945 and was the last English sailor to be executed; it would be Jeremy’s only capital punishment case.

A brown hardback book in a box, with a black crest on the front.
First edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover signed by the author D.H. Lawrence and numbered 318 of one thousand copies (1928). This was a gift to Jeremy from his mother, Mary. Ref-no: SxMs207/2/3/3/1.

In 1960 Penguin Books Limited caused controversy with its publication of an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. It was the first prosecution of a literary piece of work under the then recently passed Obscene Publications Act 1959. In the wake of World War II, the counterculture against conservative hegemony challenged the status-quo of public morality and impropriety. The decision to prosecute Penguin was taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Theobald Mathew who was ostensibly influenced by Mervyn Griffith-Jones QC, who ruled that the book was a threat to society. The trial itself became infamous for the words used by prosecutor Griffith-Jones, who made vociferous claims when addressing the jury in his opening statement ‘is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’. The elitist and misogynistic question received unintentional laughter in court and undoubtedly undermined the prosecution. Jeremy Hutchinson was briefed as junior defence counsel and received consideration media attention for his exceptional cross-examination skills. The Lady Chatterley case propelled Jeremy’s career exponentially and he went on to garner a reputation as one of Britain’s leading advocates. The records for this case are a fantastic assortment of documents including trial transcripts with marginal annotations, press cuttings praising Jeremy’s advocacy, research notes, and lists of witnesses. The three folders of correspondence demonstrate Jeremy’s search for appropriate witnesses and includes pre-trial, trial, and post-trial correspondence with staff at Penguin Books, witnesses, and friends and family.

A typewritten letter to Hutchinson showing a list of potential witnesses, which have been ticked in pen.
Letter from solicitors Richards, Butler & Co to Jeremy Hutchinson QC with a list of potential witnesses for the trial. Ref-no: SxMs207/4/2/4/4.

Jeremy’s pursuit for the abolition of censorship transcended literary pieces of work to the film and stage. He defended the 1972 erotic film The Last Tango in Paris that came under fire from morality campaigner Edward Shackleton, a leading figure in the Christian Festival of Light movement and a retired Salvation Army officer. Shackleton brought a private prosecution against the distributor of the film in the United Kingdom and the charges were made under the Obscene Publications Act 1959; at that time a film had never been prosecuted under this act. Jeremy Hutchinson QC and Richard Du Cann QC led the defence with Justice Kenneth Jones presiding, who ultimately ruled that the distributors had no case to answer and terminated the legal proceedings. The material for this case retains invaluable material to researchers including correspondence between Jeremy and defence solicitors, film critics, psychiatrists, publishers, and authors.

Alongside Jeremy’s career in court, he was also instrumental in legal reform in the United Kingdom and was one of the founding members of the Criminal Bar Association in 1969. It continues to the present day and represents the views and interests of specialist criminal barristers in England & Wales. Jeremy was closely involved with the Devlin Committee that was established to create the Devlin report of 1976. Its purpose was to examine criminal cases and determine the effect of identification and identity parades on convicted peoples. He served as Recorder of Bath from 1961 until 1971 when the role became defunct following the Courts Act 1971. These series include a fascinating assortment of material including speeches, photographs, press cuttings, reports, and correspondence. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief overview of Jeremy Hutchinson’s legal career. If you are interested in this material, or his extensive legal documents in general, please do not hesitate to contact me with any enquiries. My contact details are as follows:

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