Court of Appeal Criticises High Court Judge Peter Smith
The Court of Appeal criticises High Court Judge Peter Smith claims an article by the Law Society gazette. The criticism is over a ‘disgraceful’ and ‘worrying’ letter the judge sent to Blackstone Chambers.
Published online on 16th June 2016, the article relates to the fact that although the CoA ruled there was no apparent bias, it granted the appeal in Harb v Aziz on three separate grounds. It did this because of what it considered to be shortcomings in the way the judge dealt some of the evidential issues.
Last year, High Court Judge Peter Smith, recused himself from a case against British Airways after he got into a dispute with the airline over lost luggage. He had been accused of apparent bias for sending a letter to Blackstone Chambers following an article by Lord Pannick QC criticising the judge’s conduct.
High Court Judge Peter Smith – The Letter
The Court of Appeal also heavily criticised Smith for his letter to Blackstone. The letter, to Anthony Peto QC, co-head of Blackstone, warned that Pannick’s article was ‘extremely damaging’ to the chambers within the Chancery Division. High Court Judge Peter Smith’s also said in his letter, it was obvious that the [Blackstone] chambers ‘takes but does not give’.
The letter emerged in an appeal against a judgment by Smith in which he awarded Janan Harb, the alleged ‘secret wife’ of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, £25m after accepting her claim that Prince Abdul Aziz, Fahd’s son, had agreed a huge payout.
Master of the rolls Lord Dyson said it was a ‘shocking’ and ‘disgraceful’ letter to write. ‘It shows a deeply worrying and fundamental lack of understanding of the proper role of a judge. What makes it worse is that it comes on the heels of the baggage affair.’
The Court of Appeal also said the comments made in Pannick’s article, which said that the reputation of the legal system was damaged by Smith’s behaviour in the BA case, was justified.
CoA Regrets Need to Criticise High Court Judge Peter Smith
Dyson said: ‘We greatly regret to have to criticise a judge [High Court Judge Peter Smith Crticised by CoA] in these strong terms, but our duty requires us to do so. Though it does not follow from the fact that he acted in this deplorable way that the allegation of bias must succeed.’
The CoA said … a fair-minded observer would conclude, that there was a real possibility the judge was biased against all 100 members of Blackstone Chambers, at least for a short period. But it said that the fair-minded observer would not conclude that this would affect the judge’s determination of issues in a case where a party was represented by a member of Blackstone.
The court ruled that it was ‘unrealistic’ to suggest that Smith was motivated by bias against the prince. Continuing that it was ‘fanciful’ to suggest that the judge would have made major changes to the assessment of the evidence as a reaction to the article. The article was published after he heard the evidence.
In any event the court allowed the appeal on three separate grounds. Concluding that Smith had not dealt fully with the evidence or explained how he had reached his conclusions. It ordered that the case be tried before a different judge.