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Court of Appeal brands Judge Peter Smith’s incredible Blackstone Chambers letter ‘disgraceful’

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CoA orders retrial in Harb v HRH Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd, but clears controversial high court judge of bias

smith

The Court of Appeal has slammed Judge Peter Smith’s astonishing letter to Blackstone Chambers’ head Anthony Peto QC, branding it “shocking” and “disgraceful”.

Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice McFarlane — ruling in the case of Harb v HRH Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd, in which Smith originally presided over — took the opportunity to have a pop at the outspoken judge’s behaviour.

The judges describe the letter — in which Smith states he “will no longer support” elite London set Blackstone — as showing “a deeply worrying and fundamental lack of understanding of the proper role of a judge”.

Continuing, in a judgment published today, the court said:

What makes it worse is that it comes on the heels of the BAA baggage affair. In our view, the comments of Lord Pannick, far from being ‘outrageous’ as the judge said in the letter, were justified. We greatly regret having to criticise a judge in these strong terms, but our duty requires us to do so.

The incredible missive (pictured in full below) — which Legal Cheek obtained courtesy of leading legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg last month — was penned by Smith in 2015, in response to an article published in The Times (£) by Blackstone’s David Pannick QC. The article was particularly critical of Smith’s handling of an unrelated case.

etter

However, despite the inappropriate letter, the Court of Appeal has today ruled that Smith was not biased when he made his judgment in the case of Harb v HRH Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd. Ordering a retrial nonetheless, the court did say that Smith had “failed to examine the evidence and the arguments with the care that the parties were entitled to expect”.

Addressing the allegation of bias specifically, the court, describing Smith’s conduct as “regrettable”, continued:

We have little doubt that most, if not all, litigants represented by a member of Blackstone Chambers, knowing of the article, would prefer to have their case heard by another judge. We are prepared to accept that some, indeed many, might have very strong feelings on the subject.

Before adding:

We think it fanciful to suppose that the judge made major changes to his assessment of the evidence simply as a reaction to the article or that his decision on the agency issue owed anything to a bias against the Prince.

But Smith isn’t out of hot water just yet. Taking to Twitter this lunchtime, Rozenberg questioned how Smith could “continue” as a judge following such criticism from the Court of Appeal.

The Smith saga rumbles on.

Read the judgment in full below

40 Comments

Trumpenkrieg

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Given the football is about to start, perhaps we could start a Peter Smith J themed chant?

“Sacked in the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning…”

(5)(1)

Anonymous

“It was a shocking and, we regret to say, disgraceful letter to write. It shows a deeply worrying and fundamental lack of understanding of the proper role of a judge.”

Savage AF.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Rekt.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

What a twat. There’s nothing more satisfying than smug self-importance being blown to smithereens

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Mr Pannick is that you?

(2)(2)

Anonymous

You won’t find Mr Pannick right now. He’s too busy having his hands greased by Saudi money. Indeed, Mr Pannick should be subject to investigation. What self-respecting lawyer would compromise any semblance of integrity to write such an article about a judge. I would guess a lawyer who is terrified of losing such a client that he’s willing to scrape along the gutter to please him.

(8)(16)

Anonymous

Hi Peter.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

His judgments are an awful read, too. They are rambling and unfocused. And forget bias, just look at the substance of his approach to evidence in Harb. This lead to Court of Appeal educating PSJ in the basics the business of judging. See, as conclusion, para [39]: “Our system of civil justice has developed a tradition of delivering judgments that describe the evidence and explain the findings in much greater detail than is to be found in the judgments of most civil law jurisdictions. This requires that a judgment demonstrates that the essential issues that have been raised by the parties have been addressed by the court and how they have been resolved. In a case (such as this) which largely turns on oral evidence and where the credibility of the evidence of a main witness is challenged on a number of grounds, it is necessary for the court to address at least the principal grounds. A failure to do so is likely to undermine the fairness of the trial. The party who has raised the grounds of challenge can have no confidence that the court has considered them at all; and he will have no idea why, despite his grounds of challenge, the evidence has been accepted. That is unfair and is not an acceptable way of deciding cases.”

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Oh go fly a kite.

(0)(5)

Anonymous

That quote is itself unclear. The lack of clear internal coherence and reference makes the meaning difficult. Why should Smith’s judgments be criticised when the CoA is incapable of plain, but precise, English?

(3)(8)

Anonymous

The quote is the conclusion. It is quite intelligible to a fair-minded reader. The last phrase is the summing up of the way the judge dealt with the evidence. In what precedes it, the CA sets out in detail the judge’s approach to the evidence and how it was flawed. It is textbook stuff and that he has to be educated so is a true indictment of his judicial performance. That is the point, quite apart from his personality and the way he chooses to vent his own frustrations, – that he is not good at doing the job.

(7)(1)

Rotund of Counsel

Having been praised in a Court of Appeal judgment myself, and having dined out on it during my first couple of years at the Bar, I recognise that this (the opposite) must really hurt!

(9)(8)

Rogon

I don’t know who you are but you certainly do a good impersonation of a dickhead

(10)(4)

Anonymous

I know who you are, Rogon!

Mwhahahahahahahaha!!!!!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I wonder if Joshua Rosenberg goes to bed thinking about Justice Peter Smith and wakes up still thinking about him, of how much more bias he can throw at the judge when he again abuses his so-called journalistic position. “On a mission” comes to mind. Or how about “witchhunt”? What’s the matter Mr Rosenberg, still trying to ingratiate yourself with the legal profession?

The Rosenberg saga rumbles on.

(5)(16)

Anonymous

Do shut up Peter Smith.

(13)(3)

Anonymous

Is that you Mr Rosenberg? Way past your bedtime don’t you think.

(2)(10)

Anonymous

Wait, what’s wrong with Rozenberg again? Am I missing something?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Peter Smith certainly goes to bed dreaming of Rozenberg, chasing him down endless corridors of the more mysterious parts of the RCJ, the walls getting ever closer together, a Lord Justice waiting round every corner with not a kind word to say, and no luggage in sight.

(5)(1)

LouisVuitton

No one comes out of this very well. Even the Court of Appeal seems to have applied the wrong test at the end of the judgment:

“…we think it fanciful to suppose that the judge made major changes to his assessment of the evidence simply as a reaction to the Article or that his decision on the agency issue owed anything to a bias against the Prince. There is no evidence to suggest that he did so. ”

That is confusing apparent bias with actual bias, surely?

(4)(4)

Reggie Manningham-Buller

The only person who emerges with credit from this sordid episode is the baggage handler in Italy who didn’t load up Smith’s luggage on the plane…

Smith himself is now such an absurd object of ridicule that you have to wonder how he can be seen around the RCJ when literally everyone is laughing about him.

His correct level would be a place on Big Brother.

(9)(5)

Randell

In general he has an excellent reputation. One can only regret the somewhat intemperate way the CA expressed itself on this occasion. Unfortunately we seem to be living in an age which requires judges to act in a uniform way and to do as they are told.

(5)(12)

Anonymous

A very reasonable and intelligent comment. Many barristers consider Justice Smith a decent and fair judge. And was the CA really so horrified with the ‘absolute disgrace’ of a letter? Wake them up and ask them.

(2)(10)

Some dude

Smith has a good reputation? One does not get slapped down so often by the Court of Appeal and walk away as some sort of great example of how a judge should act.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

Oh dear Reggie, didn’t you get what you wanted from Justice Smith? Bad loser.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

Who does Rozenberg thinks he is? It’s time action was taken against him. Go away Rozenberg and get someone else to stroke your not inconsiderable ego.

(1)(7)

A working journalist

What kind of action do you suggest taking against a journalist for doing his job, exactly?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I know, right? Peter Smith is being a petulant baby.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The sort of action many people would like to take against this particular ‘journalist’ is unprintable.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

A lot of these comments are so obviously written by Peter Smith. This won’t help to win people around to your side, it’s reinforcing people’s impressions of you as a deluded man who is completely obsessed with that journalist.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

The sort of action many people would like to take against this particular ‘journalist’ is unprintable, and as for the ludicrous notion (of perhaps Melanie) that these comments are being written by Justice Smith, is just that. Ludicrous. The only obsession here is Rozenberg’s with Justice Smith. Rozenberg, you are creepy and it’s time you went out to grass. If anyone’s deluded it’s you who seems to have set himself up as a mouthpiece for those in the legal profession who are bad losers and don’t want to miss out on their big fat fees from Saudi princes who refuse to take the witness stand, for obvious reaso

(2)(4)

Anonymous

I don’t think anyone else has beef with Rosenberg. Prove that he’s as wildly unpopular as you claim.

(0)(0)

A working journalist

Difference: Peter Smith has acted like a third-rate judge in a banana republic. Rozenberg has criticised this. The former is unacceptable; the latter is not. Stop being weird. Given your strange vendetta against Rozenberg, you can forgive people for thinking you are indeed Peter Smith.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

That’s your opinion. There are those who are more than just a ‘working journalist’ who think that Peter Smith J is a first-rate judge. He just doesn’t pander to the legal profession as they would like him to. As for “strange vendetta”, is that what you call it when Joshua Rozenberg is being criticed. It looks like he can give but can’t take it.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It’s very apparent that Peter Smith J thinks that Peter Smith J is a first-rate judge.

(0)(0)

Odovacer

I am not Peter Smith J and I think he is a good judge.

(0)(0)

Tacitus

Sadly Smith lost the plot long ago. Remember this is a repeat of his folly in refusing to recuse himself from a case involving the solicitors Addleshaws after they had just turned him down for a job. That was years ago. Plainly even then he wanted out from the bench.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I’m sorry, but I thought it was a criminal offence to attempt to intimidate and blackmail a judge so that he will give the judgement the party wants. The judge’s second letter was dated 1st December 2015 and refers to a previous one two weeks earlier, yet he received no response. The hearing of this case was listed for February 2016 and still no response or publication of the letter, but as soon as the party saw that the outcome was not as expected, the letter and Joshua Rozenberg’s article were both published. In my humble opinion, I believe that the message to Peter Smith J was very clear. We won’t publish if you give us the result that our client wants and decided to hold back with the letter to use as a basis for an appeal, bearing in mind that in a previous case involving another Saudi prince an application for leave to appeal did not succeed and the second Saudi prince in this case was afraid that the same would happen to him. The only issue here is the Saudi princes’ fear/reluctance to be placed in a witness box. Lord Dyson could see this and his comments were intemperate and designed to head off any possible (and justifiable) claim for damages that Peter Smith Js legal advisors would and should consider.

I hope Peter Smith J’s advisors look at the possibility of a police investigation into the motives of Mr Pannick’s and Joshua Rozenberg’s motives.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Are you accusing Blackstone’s head of chambers of blackmailing a Judge? That’s just a tad defamatory (and, frankly, mental).

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.