A judge has just as much right as anyone to complain when an airline loses his luggage.
airing his grievance forcibly while presiding over an unrelated
£3billion case involving the same airline might not have been the wisest
Amid accusations of bias, Mr Justice Peter Smith, one of
the country’s most senior – and colourful – judges, has agreed to step
down from the case.
Justice Peter Smith was presiding over an unrelated case involving British Airways. Photo / AP
The High Court judge was hearing a dispute
involving British Airways, tens of thousands of firms and 30 other
airlines in London.
But coincidentally, after his baggage went
missing on a recent trip to Italy, he had sent emails to British
Airways’ chairman using his judicial title, accusing staff of
deliberately leaving behind all the plane’s luggage and deceiving
Unfortunately, he then decided to include his own
baggage woes in the separate multi-billion-pound case being played out
in his court room.
In an extraordinary rant, Mr Justice Smith threatened to order
British Airway’s chief executive to the court to explain how a whole
aeroplane’s luggage could accidentally go missing before his bags
“spontaneously” turned up at his home last week.
He told British
Airway’s legal team, led by Jon Turner QC: “Right, Mr Turner, here is a
question for you: what happened to [the] luggage?”
barrister replied that they were not dealing with that issue the judge
insisted: “I am asking you – what has happened to the luggage?”
lawyer again declined to address his request, leading to Mr Justice
Smith to warn: “In that case, do you want me to order your chief
executive to appear before me today?”
Told it would be
inappropriate to discuss a personal dispute, the judge replied: “What is
inappropriate is the continued failure of your clients to explain a
simple question, namely, what happened to the luggage? It has been two
weeks since that happened.”
After objecting to doubts being cast
on his impartiality, the judge said: “I do not believe for a minute that
the reasonably-minded observer would think that merely because I had
raised issues about the non-delivery of my luggage, that it should raise
the possibility of bias.”
But when British Airways’ legal team
applied for the judge to stand aside this week, he agreed. A new judge
will now have to be appointed in his place to preside over the case,
dating back to 2006, over a European Commission ruling that British
Airway was guilty of colluding to fix air cargo charges.
Justice Smith is known as one of the legal profession’s most
characterful figures, having hidden a message in a High Court judgment
relating to the Da Vinci Code copyright trial.
He took a leaf out of Dan Brown’s global bestseller to hide his own message in the 71-page court document.
2006, he ruled in favour of Brown after a hearing about the sources of
The Da Vinci Code. Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh had sued
publisher Random House, claiming Brown stole their ideas.
Italicised letters in the first seven paragraphs of the judgment spelt out ‘Smithy Code’ in a nod to his name.
letters then appeared in italics, apparently randomly. When the code
was cracked, it read: “Jackie Fisher, who are you? Dreadnought” –
relating to one of the judge’s own interests – Admiral Lord Fisher, who
designed the battleship HMS Dreadnought.