Lighter Side: Furious judge benched after writing bizarre letter barristers

by NZ Lawyer03 Jun 2016
A High Court judge in the UK has taken a leave of absence after he sent a barristers chambers a letter that implied he would do them over.

Justice Peter Smith was the subject of an investigation by the judicial watchdog last year after he hijacked a £3 billion British Airways case to rant about his lost luggage, calling himself the victim after his luggage wasn’t loaded onto his flight home from a holiday in Florence, Roll on Friday reported.

Raising the lost luggage over 40 times during the tantrum, Smith asked John Turner QC, counsel for British Airways, “Right, Mr Turner, here is a question for you.  What happened to [the] luggage?”

Leaked transcripts reveal that Turner doesn’t want to get involve in the lost luggage at the hearing when the judge persists and then finally, Smith said: “In that case, do you want me to order your chief executive to appear before me today?”

British Airways asked Smith to recuse himself from the long-running competition case after he disclosed that he was engaged in a personal dispute with the airline.

In an article published in the times last month, Lord Pannick QC, of Blackstone Chambers, criticised Smith’s behaviour in the case.

“How we laughed.  But the case raises serious issues about judicial conduct that need urgent consideration by the lord chief justice,” the article said.

In response, Smith sent a letter to Anthony Peto QC, the head of Blackstone Chambers, saying the article has “caused me a lot of grief and trouble” and that Pannick’s “opinion is not worth the paper it is printed on”.

Continuing his spat, he vows to no longer support barristers’ from the chambers in their applications to become Silks as he has done in the past.

“I will no longer support your chambers,” he wrote.

“I do not wish to be associated with Chambers that have people like Pannick in it.”

The letter came to light when Smith ruled against a Saudi prince Blackstone was representing in a case before the High Court.  The prince then accused the judge of ruling against him as revenge for the article and is now seeking to have Smith’s decision quashed in the Court of Appeal, where Lorde Gabiner QC has said Smith’s letter is evidence of possible bias.

Smith is understood to not be hearing cases.

“Following an issue that has arisen during civil proceedings, Mr Justice Peter Smith has agreed to refrain from sitting until those civil proceedings are resolved,” a spokesperson from the Judicial Office said.