A High Court judge has agreed not to sit in any cases until an appeal involving allegations of potential bias against barristers at Blackstone Chambers is over.
The Honourable Mr Justice Peter Smith (pictured), who last year had to recuse himself from a case against British Airways after he got into a dispute with the airline over lost luggage, sent a letter to Blackstone Chambers following a Times article by Lord Pannick QC criticising the judge’s conduct.
In the letter, addressed to Anthony Peto QC, co-head of Blackstone, Smith warned that the article had been ‘extremely damaging to Blackstone Chambers within the Chancery Division’ and said it was obvious the chambers ‘takes but does not give’.
The letter added: ‘I will no longer support your chambers. Please make that clear to members of your chambers. I do not wish to be associated with chambers that have people like Pannick in it.’
The letter emerged in an appeal against a judgment by Smith in which he awarded Janan Harb, the alleged ‘secret wife’ of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, £25m after accepting her claim that Prince Abdul Aziz, Fahd’s son, had agreed a huge payout.
Lord Grabiner QC, for the prince, said that the judgment should be overturned due to potential bias against the prince as he had previously been represented by Pannick and was represented at the trial by two members of Blackstone Chambers.
Charles Hollander QC, for Harb, suggested that as there were 100 barristers at Blackstone Chambers, it was not possible that the letter would imply bias against all its members.
But Grabiner said this idea was ‘completely absurd’ and that a fair-minded person instructing Blackstone on a case would either want the trial heard by a different judge or would opt to instruct barristers from a different chambers if they knew about the ‘devastating’ letter.
A spokesman for the judiciary confirmed that the judge would not sit in any cases until the outcome of the appeal.
The spokesman said: ‘Following an issue that has arisen during civil proceedings, Mr Justice Peter Smith has agreed to refrain from sitting until those civil proceedings are resolved.’
Smith is currently being investigated by the judicial conduct authorities in relation to his conduct in the BA case.