What appears to be court stenographer’s note appears online after Mr Justice Peter Smith stands up for airline passengers everywhere
A document appearing to be the full transcript of a judge’s bench badgering of British Airways over his lost luggage has emerged.
Fleet Street last week cast the Chancery Court’s Mr Justice Peter Smith — whom The Times newspaper described as “one of the legal profession’s more colourful figures” — as the common air travellers hero after he castigated lawyers for the “world’s favourite airline”.
But the bench-slapping had nothing to do with their submissions in the £3 billion lawsuit Smith was hearing — a spat in which BA was accused of colluding to fix air cargo charges. Instead it related to an entirely unrelated incident which had seen Smith’s luggage go missing on a BA flight during a recent trip to Italy.
Legal Cheek cannot verify the authenticity of the document that is doing the rounds of legal London. However, it appears to be a comprehensive transcript of the court stenographer’s note.
Taking the brunt of Smith’s ire was Jon Turner, a silk of nine years’ standing from Monkton Chambers in Gray’s Inn. As BA’s lead counsel on the day, Turner came in for repeated questioning regarding the loss of Smith’s luggage during his recent trip Florence.
At one stage the judge threatened to haul BA’s pugnacious Irish chief executive, Willie Walsh, before the court to answer some pretty searching questions on the missing luggage front. Sadly that didn’t happen, as it would have been one hell of a bout.
Now, Smith is no stranger to courtroom antics. The judge once famously inserted his own coded message into a judgment he handed down on a copyright case concerning best-selling thriller novel “The Da Vince Code”.
In the most recent case, according to the transcript, Smith repeatedly cross-examined BA’s lawyers about the lost luggage, while, in turn, they desperately tried to bring the proceedings back to the matter of the trial.
In the end, frustrated lawyers, who included the airline’s law firm, Slaughter and May (whose partners presumably know a thing or two about international holiday travel), applied for Smith to recuse himself. The grounds were clear: anyone so arsed off with one of the litigants — no matter how legitimately in a customer service context — would not be able to hear case impartially.
Smith adamantly disagreed, but he stood down nonetheless. He didn’t go quietly, telling the court:
I do not believe for one minute that the reasonably minded observer … would think that merely because I have raised issues over the non-delivery of my luggage of itself should lead to the possibility of bias. I believe a reasonably minded observer would see a judge with a problem trying to resolve that issue and finding the parting question being obstructive and unwilling to address the issue and find a solution. A simple dispute as to the luggage cannot possible be grounds for recusal. However, BA and its solicitors have simply escalated the problem almost immediately.
Nonetheless, Smith saw the writing on the wall in terms of public perception:
I however cannot allow my presence in the case and its difficulties to distract the parties from this case. And therefore, regretfully, I feel that I have no choice, whatever my feelings about it, but to recuse myself from the case …
BA’s legal team will be relieved. The rest of us will still shed a tiny tear as the case of Emerald Supplies Ltd v British Airways is destined to be a damn sight less entertaining than it was a week ago.