Lord Hutton, the senior judge conducting the inquiry into the apparent suicide of the government weapons expert David Kelly, is to step down as a law lord in the new year.
Yesterday's announcement supports the widely held suspicion that the judge has already completed his report but is negotiating with the parties on the mode of publication.
Lord Hutton, 72, is not due for mandatory retirement for another three years but a statement on the inquiry's website said that he had given notice of his intention to stand down before he was appointed to investigate Dr Kelly's death.
A statement said: "Lord Hutton, who is conducting the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, will retire as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lord) on 11 January 2004.
"His retirement will have no effect on his work in writing his report. If it has not been completed by 11 January he will complete his work on the report after his retirement."
He is one of two law lords whose retirements have prompted a rash of promotions among the senior judiciary. Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough will also step down next year. The two new law lords are to be Sir Robert Carswell, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and Lord Justice Simon Brown, a Court of Appeal judge and also the Intelligence Services Commissioner.
In turn, three High Court judges, Sir Nicholas Wall, Sir David Neuberger and Sir Maurice Kay, the father of the England rugby star Ben Kay, are to be promoted to the Court of Appeal. Sir Maurice will replace Lord Justice Schiemann on his appointment as a judge of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Another High Court judge, Sir Anthony Hooper, is to be appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal on the retirement next year of Lord Justice Mantell.
Lord Hutton's careful and thorough stewardship of the investigation into Dr Kelly's death has drawn praise from lawyers and politicians who regarded it as a template for all future judicial inquiries.
Lord Hutton has been able to take advantage of recent legislation that gives senior judges investigating deaths the same powers as coroners.
But perhaps his greatest achievement has been in the use of IT. All the important documents have been displayed on the inquiry's website.Reuse content