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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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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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25 Comments

Observer

Has anyone reading this stood before him?

(6)(1)

Anonymous

I did when I was very newly minted. The descriptions of him were too kind. That he was allowed to stay on the bench so long was a disgrace.

(28)(6)

Bob

Sounds like a bit of a *tries to think of a word that the mods will allow* Piers Morgan

(5)(0)

Just Anonymous

Long before my time. But I know the stories. Eccentricity is one thing, but bullying has no place on the Bench (or indeed in any aspect of civilised life).

Thankfully, in my experience, such conduct is now virtually non-existent.

(6)(4)

Bullpen

I appeared before Sir Jeramiah Harman as a litigant in person, concerning an agricultural matter. He was absolutely charming and we had a very interesting conversation about Deer Stalking. He also had a remarkable knowledge of the ‘agricultural geography’ of the County of Dorset. I shall always consider it a privilege to have appeared before him, indeed as a humble litigant in person, he complimented me on my submission.

(6)(3)

Bullpen

I am intrigued by the number of posts that allude to either, Public or State educated members of the legal profession. As a litigant in person, nothing crossed my mind as to the provenance of one’s education. Indeed I suspect that Sir Jeramiah recognised in myself, somebody who had an open mind as to background. It was not until sometime after representing myself, that I learn of Sir Jeramiah’s fearsome reputation. Although immediately after the hearing, Counsel (who will remain nameless and was a very pleasant person) for the other side, said something to the effect, “that was a remarkable performance, do you know who the Judge was”. Bearing in mind one goes into such ‘adventures’ not knowing who one is before. I seem to remember he was wearing a full bottomed wig, although I might be mistaken.

(0)(0)

A barrister

I did. Quite a few times. He was a pretty terrible judge. Quixotic, temperamental, often rude and generally difficult. Several female colleagues also told me that he was particularly unpleasant to female barristers. Sorry, I subscribe to the principle of don’t speak ill of the dead, but truth will out nonetheless.

(3)(0)

Would you accept the same from a law student?

I have to be honest here, he sounds thoroughly unpleasant.

Being ‘eccentric’ is no excuse for rudeness towards cab drivers, women, or people who choose to make their livings as musicians or professional footballers.

(33)(5)

Corina

I assume you’re being ironic.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Agreed, although some of the quotes attributed to him are only alleged and don’t seem to have been made in court.

(19)(0)

Anonymous

He was an Old Etonian. You could have guessed that without reading his obituary.

(20)(35)

Anonymous

His father was hardly polite: :

“I can conceive of no useful object to be served in foisting upon the public this mass of junk. It has neither public utility nor educational value” (Harman LJ)

(8)(2)

Anonymous

Another Etonian. What a shock.

(13)(20)

Anon

There’s fewer of them in law now than in the past – considered too much hard work and pupillage is no longer given under the table.

(8)(19)

Dodging the lightning bolt

I am amazed that God had the temerity to call him home.

One afternoon in his court – 30 plus years ago- as a very junior solicitor sitting behind ashen faced counsel was quite enough for me.

(13)(1)

Anonymous

Just reading that he was in the Parachute Regiment is all I needed to know.

(3)(16)

Anon

The worst thing about the obituaries was the theme of “outside of court he was a really lovely man”, completely minimising his atrocious and inappropriate conduct that did so much harm to so many. He may have behaved better towards those he considered his social equivalent, but that just makes him all the worse as a human being. An example of the English class system at its worst.

(12)(21)

Urgh

This is typical of the Bar though, isn’t it?

How many barristers are ‘lovely people’ to those from similar private schools or others they consider their social equals, and behave abhorrently to receptionists, security personnel, BAME people, students or anyone else they consider beneath them?

It’s not ‘funny’ or ‘eccentric’ – it should rightly be called out as embarrassing to the profession and unacceptable.

(12)(19)

Damian

It is not typical of the Bar.

In my experience, and I speak as a state-educated solicitor, those barristers from public schools are far more likely to behave towards everyone in a polite and dignified manner. It is barristers from state schools, who are perhaps insecure and lack social grace, who treat people they consider beneath them (but who are actually of the same class) in a high-handed way.

(25)(3)

Urgh

You can come from a public school and still be insecure about a learning disability, personal appearance, lack of success with women or your ability to do the job.

(2)(9)

Old Buffer of Counsel

Wow! They don’t make ’em like that any more!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I have two teenage daughters and I have wrestled with the message that I want to give them so I have condensed down to 4 simple words “do the right thing”. Now I suspect that there are some philosophers among you who will argue long and hard about what that phrase means to me it simply requires you to treat others as you would wish to be treated. I have no time for these misleading obituaries and in any event, he will soon be forgotten even to his own family. Do the right thing and as long as your memory lasts, you will be sort of fondly!

(3)(0)

Hackaforte

He sounds like a crashing bore socially and an inept judge professionally.

Lesson one of the judiciary is to doff your personal views when you don your bench wig.

As we saw with Peter Smith J and his luggage tirade, not to do so leads nowhere good.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

One of the problems with the law is that it has become so complicated that you need to be a really excellent lawyer to be an appellate judge. Unfortunately, being a really excellent lawyer is no guarantee of being a really excellent person (and frequently the opposite is true). A judge who is an excellent lawyer but who cannot present themselves in a professional and straightforward manner is a bad judge just in the same way that a judge who is a poor lawyer would be a bad judge. Every lawyer has stories of judges who have fallen short and for whom there were absolutely no consequences whatsoever. Something like Serafin v Malkiewicz is the tip of the iceberg.

(0)(0)

Brian Butcher ex Companies Court

As the Court Associate of the Companies Court I had innumerable meetings with His Lordship reviewing cases listed in the Companies Court Winding up List. They reminded me of my school days when as head prefect I had regular meetings with the headmaster, always having to be on the ball at all times. Sir Jeremiah was extremely intelligent, courteous, kind and generous ( he often shared a cup of tea and a sandwich if our meetings unavoidably dragged on) He was very amusing and often abrasive at the same time which to me added to his charm. Undoubtedly many comments about His Lordship were made by second rate members of the Bar who were unable to live up to his high standards. I witnessed their demise often and they deserved everything they got. I consider it an honour and privilege to have served such an exemplary Judge. I shall have many fond memories RIP

(0)(0)

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