Mr Justice Peter Smith was slammed by the Court of Appeal today (4 July) for marring his judgment with his personal feelings in a recusal application.
The case of Howell v Lees-Millais was due to be heard on 28 June but the law firm Addleshaw Goddard, whose head of the private client group Paul Howell was one of the parties, on hearing that Peter Smith J would be presiding over the case requested he be recused.
The recusal had been requested as Addleshaws and Peter Smith J had been in negotiations for the judge to join the firm. The negotiations, however, broke down at the end of May this year after an exchange of emails between the firm’s head of the contentious group Simon Twigden and Peter Smith J.
The talks, which had lasted several months, came to an end after Peter Smith J emailed asking for a decision to be made on whether he would be joining the firm before June as he needed to know where he stood.
In response Twigden said that due to the firm prioritising banking and corporate it meant that there was no way of financing Peter Smith J’s move to Addleshaws.
Peter Smith J said that he found Twigden’s emails “insulting” and “condescending” and did not feel that a response by email was adequate and that he should have talked to him instead.
The judge went on to write that he was angered by his treatment by Twigden and Addleshaws for wasting his time. The Court of Appeal ruled that the email exchange showed that Peter Smith J had “animosity” towards the firm.
Peter Crampin QC of Radcliffe Chambers initially made an application to Peter Smith J for the judge to be recused. The judge said that Crampin would have to support his application for a recusal.
Crampin on 31 May made the application, with Twigden being put forward as a witness.
The Court of Appeal ruled that at the 31 May hearing Peter Smith J instead of testing the evidence of the witness cross examined Twigden in a way that a “defence advocate” would.
Peter Smith J dismissed the appeal for recusal on the grounds that he did not know Howell and therefore no conflict was apparent.
The Court of Appeal, led by Master of the Rolls Sir Anthony Clarke, ruled that Peter Smith J’s actions were “wholly inappropriate” especially in relation to his cross-examination of Twigden and that the court was “quite satisfied that the judge should have recused himself”.
The decision to recuse, Clarke said, was “not close to borderline but was in fact beyond doubt”.
The court also held that Peter Smith J’s attitude towards Addleshaws, about which the firm was complaining, “rose directly from the judge’s private affairs”.
The conduct of the hearing, it ruled, underlined the fact that he had been “personally involved”.
Charles Flint QC and Tom Weisselberg of Blackstone Chambers acted for Addleshaws.