Controversial life of High Court judge nicknamed ‘Harman the Horrible’ and who once booted a taxi driver in the groin documented in incredible obituary

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By Adam Mawardi on

Sir Jeremiah Harman dies aged 90

Sir Jeremiah Harman, whose reputation for being the least popular High Court judge in recent times earned him the nickname ‘Harman the Horrible’, has died aged 90.

According to an obituary published by The Telegraph, Harman, born in 1930, was an “irresistibly eccentric figure” with “thick white hair, Victorian-style mutton-chop whiskers and impeccable diction” known for his controversial antics in and out of the courtroom.

Harman, for example, became known as the ‘Kicking Judge’ after booting a cab driver in the groin, having mistaken him for a press photographer. The cabbie, who had been sent to pick Harman up from his west London home, booted back before agreeing to take the judge to court. Instead of apologising, Harman later said: “I would not recommend what I did to anyone, but it was necessary.”

Harman was also notorious for his contempt towards popular culture. During a 1996 trial, Harman was asked if he had heard of Oasis, the Britpop group then at the height of their fame. He responded: “I certainly have not heard of the band. I don’t listen to bands.” In other court hearings, Harman admitted to being unaware of American rockstar Bruce Springsteen and English reggae group UB40.

Elsewhere in a hearing that followed the 1990 World Cup, Harman rejected an injunction request to halt an unauthorised biography of football legend Paul Gascoigne being published. Gascoigne, also known as ‘Gazza’, was not famous enough, Harman ruled. When told that Gazza was actually incredibly well known, Harman responded, “Is he a rugby or association footballer?” before adding: “Isn’t there an operetta called La Gazza Ladra?”

Despite his unconventional and out of touch public persona, Harman was apparently an “amusing and compassionate man in private”, eager to make strangers feel at ease, and was “capable of great acts of kindness”. Called to the bar in 1954 and taking silk in 1968, Harman practised from 9 Old Square — the same chambers that housed one of the most popular judges, Lord Hoffmann. He was appointed to the High Court in 1982.

That aside, many criticised Harman’s judicial style as being unpredictable as he’d frantically jump to conclusions, as well as his apparent tendency to bully counsel. Described by several lawyers as “impolite”, the “worse judge in the country”, and topping their “most hated list”, Harman once scolded a female barrister for not properly tucking her hair behind her wig.

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Barristers also expressed concern at how long Harmon took to deliver a judgment. He often took so long ruminating over case that by the time he gave his decision, he’d forgotten essential facts and evidence. In 1998, he resigned from the High Court bench after three Court of Appeal judges released a damning report complaining that Harman kept a claimant waiting 20 months for a verdict.

The cabbie-kicking affair reflected Harman’s general disdain for the mainstream media, whom he once hid from at Lincoln’s Inn by placing a handkerchief on his head. Those who deviated from legal jargon were told: “The language of tabloid journalism has no place in this court”.

Harman — who was educated at Eton before serving in the army’s parachute regiment — is also said to have made sexist and misogynistic comments, once telling a woman witness who wanted to be referred to as Ms: “I’ve always thought there were only three kinds of women: wives, whores and mistresses.” In another case, the judge refused to recognise ‘chairperson’ as a valid word. “‘Chairperson’ has no gender,” he reportedly said. “It is merely a description of a human being occupying the office of chairman”.

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