A circuit judge should have recused himself from a case because he had given the impression of apparent bias, the High Court has ruled.
In Dorman & Ors v Clinton Devon Farms Partnership, Mr Justice Pushpinder Saini allowed appeals against an order of His Honour Judge Allan Gore and ruled that the judge be recused in relation to a second order.
The case examined whether the circuit judge had gone beyond 'robust’ case management to give the impression he was biased (actual bias was not alleged). The court heard HHJ Gore used language which showed he was ‘angered’ by delays in proceedings and had concluded he needed to ‘kick’ the defendant into action through sanctions and penal costs orders.
The underlying case involved a fatal accident at a farm in Devon in 2014, with separate claims brought by the deceased’s family and his co-worker who witness the aftermath.
The court heard the claims did not come before the judge for directions until May this year, because of the claimants waiting to issue and separate criminal proceedings arising from the accident.
Despite the defendant largely not being responsible for the delay, HHJ Gore made unless orders for services of defences, an order for indemnity costs and an order that the defendant’s senior case handler appear at the next hearing.
The judge’s response was set out in detail in the appeal judgment. The transcript showed he accused the counsel for the defendant of ‘not doing your job properly’ and ‘bimbling around asking for a stay’ of the claim.
He said the lawyer appearing had been ‘sent here hung out to dry’ and suggested the ‘organ grinder’ be sent to appear next time instead.
On several occasions he referred to the defendant’s conduct as ‘outrageous’.
Saini J ruled that the judge wrongly blamed the defendant for delays and he failed in his duty to invite submissions rather than simply announce sanctions.
He said the disparity between the judge’s outrage at the defendant and apparent sympathy with the claimant was ‘striking’.
Saini J added: ‘In my view, the judge commented unjustifiably and used intemperate language in relation to the appellant’s conduct to date; and he made what seem to me to be inappropriate comments which I can only describe as "threats" about his approach to future costs and case management, thereby giving rise to the appearance of bias.’