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Lost luggage judge Peter Smith is back at the bar

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He retired from the High Court amid controversy in 2017

Sir Peter Smith

Former High Court judge Sir Peter Smith QC, whose antics on the bench saw him retire just days before he was due to face a disciplinary tribunal in 2017, is back in the game.

Smith — of the notorious ‘lost luggage’ rant — has joined both Goldsmith Chambers in London and Fountain Chambers in Middlesborough as an associate member.

Despite being beset with controversy during his judicial career, and the longstanding convention that retired judges do not return to the bar, Fountain Chambers even says that Smith is “willing to consider appearing in contentious cases”.

A screenshot of Sir Peter Smith’s profile on Goldsmith Chambers’ website

A former academic, Smith sat in the Chancery Division for over 20 years. He was a deputy High Court judge from 1996 and stepped up full time in 2002.

In 2007, he hit the headlines for working a coded message into a high-profile judgment about Dan Brown’s best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. Later that year, Smith was criticised by the Court of Appeal over his “intemperate” handling of a case involving Addleshaw Goddard — which he had unsuccessful discussions with over a job offer.

The Lord Chief Justice issued Smith with a reprimand for that, but said that “he has my full confidence”.

Smith nevertheless landed in hot water again for his bizarre “lost luggage” rant at the lawyers for British Airways during a hearing he was presiding over in 2015. The judge, annoyed that the airline had misplaced his baggage during a recent holiday, repeatedly demanded answers from BA’s barrister during a £3 billion case.

After Lord Pannick QC criticised Smith for this affair, the outraged jurist wrote to Pannick’s head of chambers to complain.

Smith spent 18 months suspended on full pay while the judicial authorities probed his behaviour, eventually standing down in October 2017 — days before he was due to appear before a disciplinary tribunal.

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The eminent legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg, who followed the Smith saga for many years, has written that:

“Despite everything, I have some sympathy for Sir Peter Smith. A former lecturer at Manchester University, he was well regarded by members of the northern circuit and academic colleagues including Baroness Hale.”

But Rozenberg added “few doubt he has poor judgement, something of a drawback for a judge”.

That does not appear to bother Goldsmith Chambers, which has retained the services of Smith as a “chambers associate”. His Goldsmith profile records that:

“Peter has a reputation of being robust but fair and able to dispose of matters quickly with a pragmatic approach to them. He requires advocates to be able to argue their case and this disappoints some but those who are fully prepared and know their case relish the debate that takes place in front of him.”

Fountain Chambers, meanwhile, boasts that “Sir Peter, with his vast experience at the bar and on the bench, is available to accept instructions on a consultancy basis to evaluate cases and advise on strategy and presentation”.

It adds that he is “willing to consider appearing in contentious cases both in the UK and Abroad”. Smith is also listed as “practising” on the Bar Standards Board’s register of barristers.

While it is not unusual for retired senior judges to take on consultancy and mediation work, returning to the bar is frowned upon. As a House of Lords report puts it, “there is a long-standing convention which prevents full-time judges from returning to private practice after retiring from the bench”.

Lord Pannick even reports that “the terms of service of judges expressly state that the appointment is ‘made on the understanding that appointees will not return to practise’ at the bar” — although he, like many others in the profession, thinks that the convention is outdated.

A spokesperson for Goldsmith Chambers said “he will not be able to practice at the Bar at Goldsmith Chambers. He is an Associate Tenant only”. Fountain Chambers has been approached for comment.

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20 Comments

JDA

Some might think that being ‘well regarded’ by Baroness Hale could very well be the ‘kiss of death’…

(29)(18)

Richard Morris

But what do you think?

(3)(1)

Anon

The terms of appointment point has been rendered essentially worthless. There are a large number of judges now conducting legal advice work in chambers around London on the basis that the terms of appointment restriction is not binding upon them.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Didn’t think it was possible to go back and practice as a barrister.

(4)(1)

Judex Iscariot

Not returning to private practice was an “understanding” never a requirement, at least when I was appointed. Many of us ceased to have the understanding at about the time the government broke its promise about what it would pay by way of pension. A lot of judges retired when they were 65 and had done their 20 years, enabling them to take their pension at its maximum and a non-judicial job or two knowing that they would not be challenged for doing so by an establishment that had welched on its side of the bargain. Judicial salaries may not be attractive to a lot of top earners, but it’s lack of trust that now makes a lot of people think twice about going to the bench.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Are there a lot of judges conducting reserved activities?

(0)(1)

Anon

Smith is what you get if you appoint not on merit but to fulfil political imperatives. He got the job because he was from the Northern Circuit, and the chippy non-entities who practise there were whinging that nobody from their ilk were appointed to the Chancery Division. The fact he was working class was an added bonus.

(47)(11)

Chippy Northerner

Quite. The insecurity of Northern Chambers are evident from their Pupillage brochures which emphasise their ‘national presence’ and how the quality of work is akin to London sets.

So, if your barristers are so good then why is your Pupillage allowance only £27k? Even given the living cost of the North this is terribly low.

(7)(4)

Simon Burrows

And you are?

(0)(0)

CockoftheNorth

Chippy non-entities!!?? Step foot in any Court with us and you’ll realise (like many before you) the mistake you’ve made.

(5)(1)

SN

It’s “step into” or “set foot in”. Step foot is redundant; what else are you going step with – your ear?

(0)(0)

Anon

It is telling that he has only managed to join two absolutely shite chambers.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

I guess his “stern” letter to the head of Blackstone gave a bad impression to HR.

(3)(0)

Competition Bore

I note that in the transcript of the Lost Luggage hearing that the article links to, Smith commented that, when signing off on letters, “If I put Sir Peter Smith, I always get letters “Dear Sir Smith” which doesn’t actually give confidence in the other party”.

I also note that the Goldsmith Chambers screenshot invites enquiries about “instructing Sir Smith”.

(15)(0)

Marc Beaumont

I appeared just once in front of Sir Peter. It was a case about brothers who had been in dispute over a property for many years. At one point he held up his fists and suggested they go outside and sort things out the old fashioned way. He was right and I thought this was a terrific moment. If he is still being unconventional, good on him.

(8)(11)

Anon

Wrong. Violence is NEVER the answer.

(2)(6)

Anon

If only the world was that perfect

(3)(0)

Ex Barrister

You are right. Protracted litigation is the only way to resolve anything.

(15)(0)

Anonymous

I always enjoyed a listing before him and quite liked him. He was direct and most of the time spot on in his judgment of people.

(6)(1)

Lord Harley’s sister

Goldsmith Chambers don’t care about poor judgement. Look at D’Souza and his tweeting of the Blacker trial – lots of self promotion and no regard for this client. Smith will fit in well

(3)(0)

Comments are closed.

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