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Mr Justice Peter Smith will retire tomorrow, days before disciplinary hearing

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The investigation into his alleged behaviour will now cease

Mr Justice Peter Smith, perhaps best known for his bizarre lost luggage rant during a high-profile British Airways (BA) case that he was presiding over, will retire tomorrow.

The announcement, published on Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) website, comes just days before Smith was scheduled to appear before a disciplinary tribunal over alleged misconduct. Earlier this month, Legal Cheek reported that the unnamed four-person panel was due to sit at an undisclosed location on Monday 30 October. The investigation will now cease.

The retirement of Smith confirms a prediction made by leading legal affairs journalist Joshua Rozenberg. Writing for Legal Cheek in April, Rozenberg — who has followed the saga closely — said “there will be widespread relief if Sir Peter Smith jumps before he is pushed”.

Smith — who sat in the High Court’s chancery division — first hit Legal Cheek headlines back in 2015 while he was hearing Emerald Supplies Ltd v British Airways. He complained in court that his suitcase had been misplaced during a flight back from Florence, raising the matter with BA’s barrister on at least 30 separate occasions according to a court transcript.

The former barrister then hit headlines again almost a year later after he penned a letter to the joint head of Blackstone Chambers, Anthony Peto QC, in which he pledged to “no longer support” his chambers. The letter came in response to an article written by Blackstone Chambers’ David Pannick QC, criticising Smith’s handling of an unrelated case. It was later described as “shocking” and “disgraceful” by senior judges in a scathing Court of Appeal ruling.

Last year, a report claimed that Smith was “understood to be mentally unfit to defend himself in a disciplinary inquiry”. He has been suspended on a full £181,566 salary for the past 18 months.

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46 Comments

Anonymous

If this doesn’t bring the profession into disrepute then I don’t know what does…

Anonymous

Let’s face it, there was a witch hunt against him as he never fitted in on the London High Court bench. He wasn’t southern, wasn’t proper public school, spoke his mind and didn’t tolerate London legal nonsense. As for the letter to Blackstone his only fault was putting in writing the type of nonsense the bench do orally at the time behind closed doors. He’s got more morals that most of the London bench combined.

Anon

Hello Peter

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

Sure, other than the fact that he abused his position to complain about his luggage. Oh, and he showed incredibly poor judgment by sending that letter (described by the CA as “disgraceful”). And effectively cross-examining a witness while sitting as a judge (earning a reprimand from the LCJ on appeal). And failure to recuse himself from a wasted costs order (earning another round of criticism from the CA on appeal). But apart from those trifling points, this is totally an anti-northerner conspiracy. I say we all go grab our pitchforks and descend upon the RCJ in defence of Peter Smith!

Ciaran Goggins

Mitting finding against Mitchell…

Anonymous

Finally.

This was the only way that he could avoid permanent ignominy. There can be little doubt that he would have had to be removed by Parliament otherwise, following the conclusion of the investigation.

Anonymous

Obviously, he was and probably still is ill. I hope he receives treatment and/or his condition improves

Anonymous

Not so sure. The timing of his retirement, on the Friday preceding his hearing on the Monday, is cynical in the extreme.

Rozeneberg pointed out, on LC, that Smith hit 65 at the beginning of May 2017. He could have retired then. (https://www.legalcheek.com/2017/04/joshua-rozenberg-look-out-for-a-retirement-announcement-from-mr-justice-peter-smith/)

To leave it till the very last minute, looks very grubby, like he is (1) guilty as charged and (2) grabbing as much salary as he can.

Most undignified.

Anonymous

Perhaps. Or maybe he has now received treatment and advice which previously he did not have?

Anonymous

He has had access to both for many years so this convenient excuse is simply wrong.

Anonymous

Sorry, what did he actually do? Was it something to do with those stunning Bloomsbury Law Solicitors paralegals? Awful.

Anonymous

He famously demanded “But where are the bags?”.

That’s a T-Shirt slogan right there.

Anonymous

Took a nice long paid leave courtesy of the taxpayer before falling on his sword at the last moment.

Classy.

Anonymous

Disgusting behaviour. If a litigant in civil proceedings clung on to a hopeless case until the eleventh hour then withdrew their defence at the courtroom door to avoid a harsh judgment they’d rightly be heavily penalised in costs for wasting everyone’s time. But this guy has been drawing his salary til the last possible minute and will face no sanction. Why can’t the disciplinary panel publish its findings anyway?

Ron Ipstone

There is not going to be a disciplinary hearing for its results to be published.

Anonymous

The man should be arrested for crimes against facial hair.

Anonymous

I would like to pursue or dismiss the idea that this was a witch hunt and that Smith was the equal to it.

The doomsday scenario, if he was equal to It, would have been…get Joshua Rosenberg QC to publish the findings of the disciplinary, then, if you like. If you do, I can publish my arguments as to why i was a good judge who was persecuted.

If that was the doomsday scenario, then as doomsday approached, the mandarins lost their nerve and let Smith go in silence.

Smith’s paper trail remains. The best journalist could obtain the skeleton arguments for both parties in his ridiculous judgments and chart whether or not his findings of fact and law actually coincided with the points raised by one of the parties’ qcs.

If they did, then they were not ridiculous after all and this would begin to support the idea that he was persecuted.

I don’t know the answer to the point, perhaps hia findings were random and stupid, but I was trained never to regard the lawyer on the other side as an idiot, and I apply that caution to Smith the judge.

The coverage of the BA case has been a whitewash. It was a fascinating bout of fencing as ba positioned to have, if I am not mistaken, a huge number of claims struck out by a judge other than Smith.

Anonymous

You’ve started early on a Friday.

Anonymous

Agreed. Unreadable.

Anonymous

Anon 3.32 pm. You’ll see below that someone says the Gazette had to delete comments on this story and roll on Friday don’t carry it…it might be my comment above that repressed the balance for legal cheek and keep the comments on. Unreadable? Laugh out loud. Is that you and your four thumbs have got ? 🙂

Anonymous

Sometimes it’s best to quit. You’ve made yourself look worse. This means you can’t be given benefit of the doubt for your initial post.

Anonymous

I am quietly confident that I’ve called it correctly. They bottled it. I bet he got paid out too, and that the retirement idea was a half truth. What do you think happened….that suddenly everyone involved became merciful and let him retire ! Do you think the little diddums was all on his own without a legal team – who will have seen it all before – to help him !

Da Vinci

Fortunately he has gone
Unfortunately he left it late
Come Monday he would have been ridiculed
Kept himself from complete disgrace

Out of the judiciary
Far from the bench
Freed from his judgments

Disgusted of Daventry

What a disgrace.

He drew his full salary since he was suspended in May 2016, and milked every penny he could until he retired at the very last minute before the disciplinary hearing. And he gets his full pension, as if nothing has happened.

If the word “honour” deserved any place in front of this man’s name, his behaviour has just rubbed it out.

His misconduct in his own disciplinary proceedings stands for all to see, quite apart from the misconduct allegations he was supposed to face on Monday.

There should be FOI applications made to find out if he really was mentally ill and if that affected his work? if so, why did he continue in the job?

I can think of no other profession – but folks here please help and tell – where someone accused of misconduct and suspended from work, can just happily sidestep the whole issue in this way, without any repercussions or consequences whatsoever.

Awful. Absolutely awful.

Anonymous

Member of Parliament could. The only misfeastant MPs who got done in the expenses disgrace were the ones where they could prove actual theft.

Or maybe police officers. What Peter Smith J has done here is a classic technique for coppers facing disciplinary proceedings; i.e. retire on “health grounds” just before the hearing. Proceedings then cease. Unless they have done anything positively criminal (beyond reasonable doubt, as distinct from the disciplinary standard of balance of probabilities), then they are home and dry.

MPs, policemen, and now judges. Spotting a pattern emerging?

Anonymous

IIRC it is commonplace in the police force to retire ahead of disciplinary hearings

Anonymous

Some “justice” system we have here.

Old pals act.

Anonymous

Where does this leave all the people Smith adjudicated on with their lives in tatters. Perhaps Smith will agree to give his two year pay while suspended to charity as he is certainly not entitled to it.

Perhaps some legally qualified person can submit freedom of information request to prove he was medically unfit to be in office. His cases need to be retried by judges who are competent to adjudicate.

The system seems to want to just brush this under the carpet.

Anonymous

The real tragedy here is that, when Peter Smith J was appointed, he was regarded as a trailblazer for people who hadn’t been to the usual schools or practised at the usual chambers, i.e. he attended a non-fee paying school and practised from chambers in the north. Back in the day, he was by some distance the top Chancery silk in the north for years. It was regarded as a progressive step to appoint him a High Court judge.

I realise a lot of people, especially ones who have come up within the last decade or so, will look at his appearance (white, male, somewhat old-fashioned moustache, apparently holding somewhat old-fashioned views) and think so f*cking what? But this was an outside-the-box appointment at the time. Times have changed out of all recognition in the last 20 years, and this was considered radical E&D (although that isn’t what it was called then) at the time it was done.

While this is a personal tragedy for Peter Smith J (who is not a bad person), this is a more general set-back for those who would like to challenge the silent undertow about who is and is not a potential senior judge. The reactionary thought will be: well be tried one who was not someone we could vouch for and it ended in a real mess.

Anonymous

Joshua Rozenberg wrote here on LC that Smith was appointed partially as an act of “positive discrimination”:

“… chippy northerner would shake things up ”

https://www.legalcheek.com/2017/04/joshua-rozenberg-look-out-for-a-retirement-announcement-from-mr-justice-peter-smith/

That just shows … bias never works, no matter what the motives. How ironic that Smith should have his downfall as a result of bias.

Trumpenkrieg

Are you saying that people should be appointed on merit? What a vile racist you are!

Anonymous

“That just shows … bias never works”

Haha. I hope you’re not a lawyer. “In conclusion my lord, the outcome in this one random example proves that in all other circumstances the outcome will be exactly the same. I rest my case.”

Fuming in Finsbury

Disciplinary hearing on Monday.
He retires on Friday.
He planned this.
The man is not worthy of any respect.

Anonymous

What would you have done? He doesn’t believe he’s done anything substantively wrong, but he’s been around for long enough to know that any disciplinary tribunal in any field is a kangaroo court. He cannot win in the tribunal. If he JRs the tribunal, then he won’t be able to come back to the bench whatever happens. But do a deal to get your pension and at least you’ll be able to live, albeit you live with this personal tragedy forever.

Anonymous

Hahahaha good one Peter! Whatever you need to help yourself sleep at night

Craig David QC

Disciplinary hearing on Monday,
Ask about my luggage on Tuesday,
Drawing salary whilst suspended on Wednesday…

Anonymous

BREAKING NEWS:

The Law Society Gazette has deleted all comments on this story on its site. The story is till up there, but commentary is not allowed. I can tell you all, for a fact, that until a few hours ago, this was one of the most heavily commented stories on the Gazette site, and that great majority of comments were extremely critical of Smith. All gone now.

Anonymous

Hopefully someone screenshotted it. Although legalcheek staff would have been too busy on rollonfriday to have spotted it.

Anonymous

Well golly guess what? RoF not even carrying the story!
Are they part of the censorship conspiracy with the Gazette – and LC are fearless fighters for free speech that can embarrass the establishment??!

Cockney Geezer

Wot happened to the geezer’s bags.
Dun ee even get compensation or somat?

Wot a liberty!

Anonymous

I don’t know Peter Smith. I never worked with him. I never appeared before him.

I just wish people would leave him alone. I’m told by colleagues that he was a very good, clever and able barrister and a humane judge.

It’s done. Stop now.

Anonymous

All too redolent of police retiring on full pension to evade disciplinary hearings; not conducive to public confidence in the judiciary, the preservation of which is essential. Ill (as one must suspect) or not, the misfeasance remains. I am happy for those whose “crimes” are the result of mental illness to escape sanction, but the issue should be put to proof.

Anonymous

He should still face disciplinary proceedings of course. In the same way a nurse or doctor would if they ‘retired’ the last working day before their disciplinary hearing.

Anonymous

A doctor or nurse wouldn’t face disciplinary hearings if they resigned and that resignation was accepted, either. Try harder next time.

Anonymous

Sickening that he was suspended on full pay, there will be no investigation of his wrongdoing and his pension remains in tact.

He was not best known for the ‘BA luggage case’, he was best known for being a difficult and tetchy tribunal, his poor analysis of legal questions and generally seizing the wrong end of the stick and never letting go.

Arthur J. Halbaschwartz

He brought a lot of baggage to the Court.

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