News

‘I will no longer support your Chambers’: Top judge’s incredible letter to elite set Blackstone emerges in bias row

By on
75

The full letter by Mr Justice Peter Smith revealed, as he is barred from hearing Blackstone barristers’ cases

peter-smith

A top judge is being blocked from hearing cases involving one of the bar’s most famous chambers after he was accused of bias against its barristers.

The extraordinary state of affairs has come about because of a letter penned by Mr Justice Peter Smith to the head of Blackstone Chambers, Anthony Peto QC, in which the High Court judge pledges that he “will no longer support your Chambers”.

The missive — which Legal Cheek has obtained courtesy of leading legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg and reproduced in full below — was written by Smith last year in response to an article in The Times by Blackstone silk David Pannick QC that was critical of his handling of an unrelated case.

PeterSmithJ-letter

Providing a window into the relationships between judges and barristers, Smith writes that “The quite outrageous article of Pannick caused me a lot of grief and a lot of trouble” before adding that the piece “has been extremely damaging to Blackstone Chambers within the Chancery Division.”

Smith then goes on to bring the contentious subject of QC applications into it, writing:

I am extremely disappointed about it because I have strongly supported your Chambers over the years especially in Silk Applications. Your own application was supported by me and was strongly supported by me to overcome doubts expressed by brother Judges concerning you. I have supported other people. It is obvious that Blackstone takes but does not give.

The judge concludes:

I will no longer support your Chambers please make that clear to members of your Chambers. I do not wish to be associated with Chambers that have people like Pannick in it.

The incredible letter has been made public as part of the appeal of Smith’s award of £20 million to the “secret wife” of a Saudi king.

The king’s son, who is fighting the award, was represented by Pannick at an earlier stage of the case. He is currently claiming in the Court of Appeal that the payout was revenge for Pannick’s criticism of Smith in The Times over his conduct in a case involving British Airways which the judge used to complain about the airline’s completely unrelated loss of his own luggage.

As all this rumbles on, Smith and Blackstone are being kept apart.

A spokesperson from the Judicial Office said:

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.

75 Comments

Not Amused

Thank goodness that Tony Blair replaced the old appointment system with a fair and transparent one!

(49)(6)

Anonymous

the one that appointed his brother?

(6)(1)

Anonymous

To be fair, his brother had been a QC for over a decade and a recorder 10 years prior. You would presume he would become a judge soon.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

recorder since 10 years since prior*

(1)(3)

Lethargic Bystander

No mention in that letter of his 10,000 clients. Or was that some other self-aggrandising ejit?

(5)(4)

Anonymous

Looks like he’s made a right Peter of himself

(5)(1)

Anonymous

In fairness to him it does look more as though he is saying that he will not support their QC applications. Still wouldn’t want him sitting on one of my cases though, what was he thinking?!

(49)(4)

Anonymous

Impartial my a@&£

(8)(3)

Anonymous

What’s your a at and pound?

(8)(2)

Anonymous

Take a wild guess mate…

(2)(5)

Anonymous

“Blackstone takes but does not give” – what an indictment of the culture of influence peddling behind the scenes that this Judge apparently still believes in. A loose cannon rolling around the decks of our justice system threatening its reputation.

(39)(4)

Anonymous

Can understand the ‘take’ part such as a reference here or there such as a QC applications. What does HH mean when he refers to ‘giving’, favours perhaps, what are thoes and which ones??

(6)(2)

Jack of Kent

“I will no longer support your Chambers.”

Great loss there for the Blackstone Chambers five-a-side football team at the Temple Tournament.

(43)(3)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Quite a loss for them, too, in that if they’re so wholesale willing to piss off the judiciary they can expect quite a lot of headaches any time a client isn’t found for and they inevitably demand appeals due to ‘bias’.

The game that will just keep on giving.

(8)(8)
(11)(0)

The Times reader

It is, that case was what Pannick wrote about

(10)(0)

Anonymous

think so.

(0)(0)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Why was Pannick writing articles for the public slagging off the judge who was, at that time, presiding over a case involving Pannick’s client?

The honourable judge should undoubtedly be held to a higher standard, but I could just as easily conclude this was a deliberate attempt to derail the law by a barrister who seems quite a bit of a loose cannon himself.

(36)(9)

Anonymous

He wasn’t at the time – as you can see from the letter, at the time of writing “he has never appeared before me”

(9)(1)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

So Pannick isn’t required to take due regard as to the interests of any client being represented by his Chambers?

Ai’ght. Go that guy. Every client for himself and to hell with the consequences. Good stuff.

(7)(13)

Anonymous

Of course not. Chambers aren’t forms of solicitors. Members’ clients will surely have completely conflicting interests all the time. I’m sure blackstones has thousands & thousands of clients at any one time, how could you take regard to all of them?

(13)(4)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Even if they did have conflicting interests, it would be outrageous to conclude from that that barristers were then free to fuck up consequences for each other’s clients within the same Chambers.

Pannick lost his head and has now caused this client to need to get involved with another lengthy and costly appeal. The implication that Smith J somehow deliberately corrupted the process is tenuous at best in any event so expect quite a lot of drama when the next judge finds the same.

Will every judge hearing their cases be considered fair game for charges of ‘bias’ from now on? Pannick is a fool who clearly can not be relied upon to exercise both the appropriate reason and sense of restraint required of someone in his position.

(10)(17)

Quo Vadis

I quite agree. Pannick’s article was outrageous and destined to end in a spat like this. I also wonder how Rozenberg got a hold of the letter? It is clearly not intended for public consumption.

(15)(12)

Joshua Rozenberg

I asked for it. It’s a public document.

(78)(3)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Why is it of public interest for you to post it on your personal Twitter account with reasoning therefor amounting to less than 140 characters? Seems pretty obvious to me you did so for no other reason than to engage in a pernicious and worryingly murky game of shaming. This sort of behaviour does precisely nothing to engender public confidence in the legal system but rather indicates, all too shamefully, the sort of machinations that go on behind it; and ones certainly not limited to the judge in question.

You are all an embarrassment.

Anonymous

Presumably it was put in evidence in the Saudi appeal?

Quo Vadis

Interesting – I didn’t know.

LouisVuitton

A public document headed “stritcly private and confidential – for addressee only”? Did you get it from Blackstone or the judge?

The letter should not have been sent on “Judiciary of England and Wales” letterhead. Smith should have been booted out long ago.

Anonymous

Smith J stood down from the Air freight cartel damages case in a rather rambling judgment delivered in July 2015. I think shortly afterwards his handling of the matter was referred to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office which, as far as I am aware, has still to pronounce on the matter.

In such circumstances, for Pannick to proclaim pre-emptively , as he did in the conclusion to his article, that ” The Lord Chief Justice should consider whether action to address Mr Justice Peter Smith’s injudicious conduct has, like his luggage, been delayed for too long” is as presumptuous as anything ever said by Smith J.

Smith J’s counterblast to Blackstone’s head of chambers is rather wayward and over the top, but one can understand why he was aggrieved at Pannick using his pulpit to opine on a matter already under consideration by the proper authorities.

(14)(3)

Anonymous

Lord Pannick wrote an article giving his views about a matter which was already being widely reported in the press (not just the legal press). The story about Smith J’s extraordinary behaviour was all over the news at the time and he was being widely condemned for his conduct. The transcript of the hearing was being circulated far and wide and Smith J came out VERY badly from it.

Lord Pannick writes a regular column in the Times about matters of interest.

Why on earth should he not comment on that case?

He is perfectly entitled to comment and express views about matters which he is not professionally involved in and which are in the public domain.

Quo Vadis

He should not comment because of the automatic and unflinching respect which barristers should give to the judiciary. It doesn’t matter whether you are an eminent QC facing a widely disregarded Judge – you bow, you scrape, and you show deference to their office. If the Judge is misbehaving in that office, that is something for the regulator, not you. Do we really want a situation where Counsel and the Bench engage in open warfare? I agree that Peter Smith J has misbehaved terribly and should probably be stripped of his office, but I would use the following analogy. Officers and sea-captains lead men into battle. Sometimes, they make terrible decisions. Their men still follow their orders, even when those orders may result in their death. The reason for this is simple. If they disobey those orders, the chain of command disintegrates and more men die as a result. Pannick has attempted to defenestrate a serving judge with the stroke of a poison pen. That isn’t an act of heroic rebellion – that is an act of mutiny.

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Precisely as Quo Vadis has said. Such contempt for a judge demonstrates a flagrant disregard for process, a clear lack of respect for confidentiality, and an extraordinary capacity for risky brinkmanship where the reputation of a judge, and that of his own chambers and all its clients, are handled like so much kindling in the hands of an obvious reason and decency arsonist for the sake of some click-bait.

Until such time as the honourable judge is no longer considered a judge via the correct and appropriate processes quite adequately in place for such instances, he remains a judge of the great courts of England and Wales – and the sublimely beautiful law they serve – and should be treated accordingly.

Pannick is a disrespectful, upstart-y little moron and I’ll be sure to avoid anything to do with him, too.

Yet another barrister

Barristers have every right to criticise judges in cases in which they are not involved, and the brilliant Lord Pannick even better than most.
As the great Jeremy (Lord) Hutchinson says, “The church at a trial represents justice and for that reason, and not for his personal qualities, counsel defers to all the judge’s s rulings in court and shows the judge respect. In all other respects the advocate is the equal of the judge and it is counsel’s professional duty to stand up to an interfering overbearing judge in the interests of the client.”

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Yeah, that Pannick sure was sticking up for a client… Oh no, wait…

So much sycophancy masquerading as reason. How lol.

A Human Rights Lawyer

I think that it is time for him to go. There is simply no scope within a judiciary plagued by the history of backhanders like ours for a judge to write in a fashion from which one might infer his continued belief in said history.

(18)(3)

Lord Blingham

No need to Pannick.

(35)(2)

A Human Rights Lawyer

I cannot compete with this quality of banter.

(17)(0)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Given the entirely disgraceful behaviour of all concerned, he evidently isn’t the only one who does. They all deserve a bollocking and public shaming.

(4)(5)

C

Loose canons are unfrocked. This loose cannon needs to be disrobed.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Keep your dirty thoughts to yourself please, this is a family site.

(9)(1)

Anonymous

Nice ‘tache.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

He does seem to be saying he won’t support Silk applications, which might, arguably, be fair enough.

My issue is with “this article has been extremely damaging to Blackstone Chambers within the Chancery Division”, which seems, undoubtedly, like a threat.

(14)(1)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Given what’s now happened, it seems all apparent to me to be a prediction.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

This gives Blackstone an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Sophisticated clients with high value claims, who know to avoid PS at all costs, will gravitate even more towards Blackstone while the ‘ban’ is in place

(27)(0)

Lord Harley Davidson of Council Offices

I have your lost luggage… It’s causing me a lot of grief and a lot of trouble.
I am happy to return it in exchange for Silk…..

(9)(0)

Anonymous

The learned judge looks like an older, fatter version of Peter Bowles. I apologise to Mr Bowles for the slight.

(4)(1)

Harry Pottherb

No, he looks like a pig in a wig!

(2)(2)

Mr Pineapples

The appointment of silks should be based on the individual standing of the applicant and not the chambers he comes from . Smitty’s approach sounds like nepotism to me – what an insight into the whole corrupt system he has given us

(9)(2)

Anonymous

How about putting Smith J and Pannick in the stocks next to each other and let people pelt wet sponges or tomatoes at them for a few hours and then they can both shake hands and we can carry on as normal?

(4)(3)

Anonymous

What does “Private and confidential for addressee only” mean again?

(10)(9)

Assbuster LJ

It means someone is causing trouble.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

What does ‘disclosure’ mean again?

(8)(5)

Anonymous

This judge had had a whole series of complaints of bias – see the Addleshaw Goddard case, the BA case, this new one, etc. Generally we have fantastic judges. What a pity one lets the side down.

(19)(2)

Anonymous

Spot on.

(9)(2)

CharelyFarleyHarley

The story here is surely how JR got hold of a letter headed strictly private and confidential. My guess is that he didn’t get it from the judge or through a freedom of information request.

(3)(9)

Anonymous

It was disclosed in the current proceedings so my guess is he probably got it due to our lovely principle of open justice

(15)(0)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Yeah, and let’s hope the LCJ will bear in mind his statutory duties when considering the long-term ramifications on justice should the judiciary now be afraid to openly air their views in private correspondence lest it be brought into ‘evidence’ – the primary purpose of which, however, clearly being having it disseminated via some Twitter lackey account in order to shit up a judge.

Lots to be thinking about ahead.

(0)(10)

Joshua Rozenberg

Good guess.

(7)(1)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Feeble tears.

(0)(2)

Trumpenkrieg

This jowly, moustachioed slug could tread the boards as a corrupt provincial functionary in a Gogol play.

(2)(1)

WaitingforGogol

He does. He’s a High Court Judge.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

This judge needs to step down immediately a quick search shows he is consistently involved in controversy, and some of the decisions he has made one would think he has lost the plot. His court room manner leaves a lot to be desired.

(3)(2)

A. Veen

A Judge’s Judicial Oath precludes him from supporting or showing favour to a chambers’ clients. It does not preclude a judge from supporting or showing favour to a chambers’ Silk applications.

The Silk application process makes provision for Judges to act as referees for applicants. Judges will provide personal references for the applicants written in their professional capacity as judges. If you are aware of that practice then there is nothing out of the ordinary about what the letter is actually referring to where it refers to ‘support’, given the actual context of the letter.

What is out of the ordinary is that a senior member of a chambers has sought to attack a judge personally and professionally in the national press and did so whilst that judge was hearing a case in which that member had acted and in which members of his chambers were currently acting just prior to the hand-down of an important judgment by the judge. That behaviour is curious but its the timing that is more curious. It would be surprising if the Judges of the Chancery Division as a group endorsed the behaviour or its support by a chambers as appropriate.

Inevitably, as the member of that chambers must have known, the Learned Judge would not and could not be expected to support the manner in which that member had chosen to attack him personally and professionally. Consequently, it should have come as no surprise to him or his chambers that the Judge would ultimately chose to end his own longstanding personal and professional association with and support for that chambers’ Silk applications, particularly in circumstances where the chambers itself seems to have failed to immediately distance itself from the activities of its member and thus tacitly gave the impression, at least to the Judge, that it was supporting its member’s conduct.

It is to be observed that the Judge did not sever personal and professional association with the chambers immediately without first seeking to first discuss the real conflict of interest here caused by the member’s behaviour directly with that chambers’ Head of Chambers on the telephone and that his attempts to find resolution of the matter at least between him and chambers were ignored, as his letter records. Plainly his decision to end his association with and support for the chambers future Silk applications is one he has given long and careful thought to and not taken lightly.

Since a Judge’s decision to support a chamber’s Silk applications is always ultimately a personal professional choice for the Judge concerned, it is also always entirely appropriate for a Judge to end such personal professional support if it appears to him the ethics of those chambers has fallen below the standards that he personally considers to be professionally acceptable and thus capable of support by him personally.

Further, it is a wise and astute judge who recognizes that the ONLY arena where his impartiality might be compromised by the personal and professional public attacks being made on him in the national press by a senior member of a chambers and the inevitable personal feelings those attacks would cause is in relation acting as a Silk application referee for members of that chambers.

It is therefore both right and inevitable he would have to cease to continue to support a chambers by acting as a referee where the chambers fails to distance itself from a conflict with the judge caused by what one of its members chose to say in a newspaper. The chambers and its member have compromised the judge’s impartiality and objectivity when acting as a referee for its other members future Silk applications only and it is difficult to fault the judge’s decision to cease to act as referee for members of that chambers. It appears from the judge’s letter that they brought that on themselves and left him with no choice.

It should be entirely normal for a sensible and courteous judge to expressly distance himself from association with the source of the public attacks being made on him and to ultimately write privately to the head of the chambers involved to record the reason for his decision on Silk application support so there can be no speculation about the extent to which his decision on Silk application support is affecting those chambers. His reason is clear: “I do not wish to be associated with Chambers that have people like Pannick in it.”.

Obviously, if you understand this letter’s context, of itself it is clear it has absolutely nothing to do with Blackstone Chambers’ clients/future clients, the merits of their clients’/future clients’ cases or to showing ‘support’ or favour to those clients/future clients.

Firstly, nowhere does the Learned Judge actually say that he will no longer be supporting Blackstone Chambers’ clients or the merits of their clients’ cases. Plainly, it hasn’t even occurred to him that his decision concerning chambers also affects the chambers’ clients in any way as he makes no mention of them at all.

Secondly, it would be stunning if the Judge had in fact said that because that would effectively record that up to the date of the letter that the Judge would ‘support’ or show favour to Blackstone Chamber’s clients when members of that chambers appeared before him.

Plainly, such a form of support shouldn’t and didn’t exist in relation to the chambers’ past, current and any future clients but a form of support did exist in relation the chambers applications for Silk albeit there is nothing unusual with that.

The judge’s letter plainly does not conflate the two forms of support, one irregular and one regular. It appears that the chambers has, by treating the two forms of support as somehow naturally existing in symbiosis and by assuming that if the regular form of support turns sour for whatever reason, so also must the irregular form of support they appear to think goes hand in glove with the regular support. There is nothing in the Judge’s letter that indicates he thinks that way and consequently no reason to suppose from the letter that he does.

Consequently, it seems to me to be entirely misconceived to go on to effectively argue as a general rule that barristers should only appear for clients before judges who would currently support their Silk Applications dependent as that is on the daily vicissitudes of the personal professional relationships between chambers/advocates and judges.

Whether a Judge is currently willing or unwilling to support a chambers or an individual barrister’s applications for Silk would seem on its face to be an absurd test criteria for a court to set for determining whether or not there is actual or perceived judicial bias against lay clients of the chambers or the barrister.

I am not a friend of the Judge. It just seems to me no right-thinking judge would want to be concurrently associated in any way with a chambers whose senior members were setting a standard for chambers that it is appropriate for its members to attack a judge personally and professionally in the national press or publicly outside the courtroom, particularly whilst the judge is concurrently trying cases in which the members of that chambers are involved. I see nothing wrong in the letter. It is the kind of letter I would expect a judge to write in the circumstances where he found himself in the invidious position of being under attack in the press from members of a chambers for whom he regularly acted as a referee on Silk applications.

(8)(8)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Utter, total, and complete perfection of reasoning. Not a single word to be faulted.

Clearly, the honourable judge made no reference at all to clients, nor can any such reference be inferred, and it is to Blackstone’s eternal shame that they would not only attempt to besmirch his good name by attempting to imply as much with this school-yard nonsense, but in so doing, that they have monumentally brought their own reputation, collectively and individually, into what can only now be considered serious question.

It simply beggars belief that so few on here that are supposed to be legally trained can’t see this letter for what it is, or the likes of Rozenberg and Pannick for the sort of people of low character that they undoubtedly are.

Regardless, I remain convinced that reason, as it always does, will indeed prevail, and history will record the good judge as being most worthy of his office, and Blackstone for the nest of vipers it patently is.

(2)(5)

Anonymous

What a load of old pompous nonsense. Clearly written by someone who has an axe to grind at Pannick and/or Blackstone.

Or even the Absurd Smith himself?

(6)(2)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

On the contrary – someone who clearly knows how to reason and correctly ascertain the available evidence impeccably. It must be awful to read if you’re a mouth-breathing idiot, though, I’m sure.

You can be quite certain those that matter will be doing the same. Pannick and his cohorts played a dangerous game and have lost it spectacularly.

Deliberately targeting a judge of the High Court of England and Wales. And suspiciously all rotating around some no doubt inevitable and massive client payout. It really couldn’t be more worthy of serious investigation.

Gosh. I’ve always thought I had big balls but this is a bunch of real scrotum draggers to a whole other degree.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Could have been a great deal shorter, A. Veen, but I get your point.

(0)(0)

Icimoi

“Plainly his decision to end his association with and support for the chambers future Silk applications is one he has given long and careful thought to and not taken lightly.”

That quote, and indeed your entire comment, might be valid in relation to any other judge lacking in Smith’s history. However, he has shown more than once that he has major difficulty in understanding the boundaries between his own personal concerns and his judicial duties, and the whole saga – including this letter – has to be read in light of that fact. He seems to think that he should be beyond criticism for his conduct in the BA case; or, at least, that he should be beyond criticism by journalists who are barristers – the very people who might be thought to be best suited to write about such topics. The day we decide that judges deserve special protection from having their conduct examined publicly is the day we drift into very dangerous territory.

(0)(0)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

Jesus. Please look up ‘conflation’ and ‘arguing shit no one said’. I assume you think a judge’s perspective on anything is irrelevant so you’re therefore averse to the concept of precedent, too. Rozenberg is qualified to be a barrister and a journalist; not a useful tool for an obvious hatchet job. Let’s hope you’re not qualified to be anywhere near the law that matters.

(1)(0)

Maurice Maitland of Nonsuch Mansion

Not wishing to creat a Panic(k), I think – Yer Honour – it is time for England & Wales to create a career judiciary, such as France and Austria with 20 year-old judges, and not have its judges drawn from the cosy ranks of senior(long-serving) barristers OR solicitors or supercilious Silks. There is also something rather football-team antagonistic and incestuous about allowing knighted or other members of the Bench as door or other tenants of Chambers, creating – as it does – this very sort of infantile divide and ruction.

(9)(4)

Anonymous

Does “brother Judges” suggest a Masonic reference?

(3)(1)

Quo Vadis

It’s the bloody Masons!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

A fellow barrister and I had to reach a “deal” when PS refused to read either of our skeleton arguments (or to hear oral submissions) for being lodged very slightly late for different reasons on each side (and he refused to hear the reasons!) – so one side ended up discontinuing its claim on the understanding it could start again solely in order that both sides could effectively by-pass PS and thereby have a hearing and obtain a decision from another Chancery judge …. which did indeed happen some months later!!

(2)(0)

Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

So you were late with a submission and a judge called you out for it and then you went crying to complain about the fact he did?

Cool. You should put your name up so any future client knows to avoid you. Utterly unfit for purpose. Submit on time or deal with the consequences.

(3)(1)

Ford Prefect

In the old days (at least as late as the 1960s) practising barristers couldn’t put their names to articles as Pannick does because it would constitute advertising, and barristers were not allowed to advertise. The public were to assume all barristers were equally competent.

Also in those days Bernard Levin was blackballed by the Garrick club for saying Lord Goddard LCJ was an incompetent bigoted old fool.

Nowadays we do not pretend barristers or judges are equally competent (and everyone agrees Goddard was incompetent), and barristers are permitted to put their names to articles. Pannick was quite right to call the judge out for his abysmal conduct of the BA trial. Note that in the course of the trial PS was extremely rude about the Court of Appeal – was that alright but Pannick wrong?

If PS doesn’t like being criticised, he would do better to avoid making an arse of himself in court, as he did in the Addleshaw’s case, the Da Vinci code case and the BA case. In a separate case he caused horrendous delay by refusing to hear counsel, causing the CA to overrule him for beaching natural justice and send the proceedings back months.

To write to the head of chambers having a go at him just invited ridicule. The judge would have been better advised to hear cases properly, and thereby not attract criticism in the first place.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.