Top judge faces bias accusation following QC’s article that criticised him for airline luggage loss reaction

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By Katie King on

*Grabs popcorn*


A controversial judge has been accused of “apparent bias” over a recent ruling of his involving Saudi royalty and a £20 million payout.

According to legal newsletter The Brief, one of the grounds that will be maintained in the challenge against Mr Justice Peter Smith is a suggestion that he appears to have been adversely influenced by an article written some months before he gave his judgment. The article was penned by columnist David Pannick QC who is a barrister at Blackstone Chambers, the set acting for the Saudi prince in the case.

Smith is certainly no stranger to the spotlight. In 2006, the judge hit the headlines when he inserted a bizarre secret code into one of his judgments, which later became known as the Smithy code.

The former lecturer then made a splash the following year when he refused to stand down from hearing the case of Howell v Lees Millais & Others, despite the matter involving a partner from a law firm with whom Smith had been in communication with about possible employment — Addleshaw Goddard. He was reprimanded for his conduct, and legal commentator and honorary QC Joshua Rozenberg — who has recently begun a series for the Legal Cheek Journal — went as far as to suggest that he should step down from the bench over the whole saga.

But that was far from the end. Smith found himself criticised, again, over the summer when he used his written ruling in a case involving British Airways to vent his frustration at the airline losing his luggage when he flew to Florence with his wife.

In response to the luggage incident, Pannick slammed Smith’s behaviour as “injudicious” in an article of his written in The Times.

Fast forward to November, and Smith — sitting in the High Court — ruled against Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd and awarded a staggering £20 million to Janan Harb, the “secret wife” of the prince’s father.

As first reported in The Lawyer magazine yesterday, lawyers for the prince are now challenging this decision in what has been described as “an unprecedented action”, with Pannick’s article apparently set to take centre stage.

The challenge is going to be heard by the Master of the Rolls in May.