Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings loses legal challenge to facing trial without a jury

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings. Picture by Alan Lewis
Former soldier Dennis Hutchings. Picture by Alan Lewis

A FORMER British soldier charged in connection with a fatal shooting more than 40 years ago has lost a legal challenge to facing trial without a jury.

The High Court rejected claims by 76-year-old Dennis Hutchings that Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) wrongly decided the criminal case should be determined by a judge sitting alone.

Judges instead backed the Director's conclusion that the potential risk of a biased juror could threaten the administration of justice in Mr Hutchings' case.

The seriously ill pensioner, of Cawsand in Cornwall, is charged with the attempted murder of John Patrick Cunningham.

Mr Cunningham (27) was shot in the back as he ran away from a British Army patrol near Benburb, Co Armagh at the height of the Troubles in 1974.

Mr Hutchings, who served in the Life Guards, was charged with attempted murder after the killing was re-examined by police.

It is alleged that he and another soldier both fired their guns, although it is not known who discharged the fatal bullet.

The decision to hold a non-jury trial was taken to guard against a potentially perverse verdict being reached.

John Pat Cunningham
John Pat Cunningham

Described as "dangerously ill" by his legal representatives, Mr Hutchings has yet to be arraigned.

His barrister argued that the decision was wrong in law and based on "bald assertions" about the risk to the administration of justice.

But counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions countered that the 2007 Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act contains a wide-ranging condition for a non-jury trial.

Any indirect connection with political or religious hostility brings the case into that category, he contended.

Lord Justice Gillen backed the ruling by the DPP.