A judge has refused pleas to recuse herself over allegations that she gave the appearance of bias in favour of one of her former pupils at the bar.
Mrs Justice Steyn DBE said it was well-established by case law it was ‘untenable’ to contend the appearance of bias where judges have crossed paths with barristers during their professional careers. This included where one of the parties was represented by a barrister who was once the fee-paid judge’s pupil supervisor or where the judge and barrister were once members of the same chambers.
The decision in Ameyaw v McGoldrick followed a ruling by Steyn last week not to allow a McKenzie friend to address the court on behalf of the claimant Yvonne Ameyaw, who has alleged libel, malicious falsehood, breach of confidence and misuse of private information against the three defendants.
The day after that preliminary hearing, Ameyaw applied for the judge to recuse herself over her professional relationship with one of the defendants’ counsel, Rupert Baines.
The claimant contended that Steyn had been at 11 King’s Bench Chambers for a considerable time before taking silk in 2014, two years after Paine was admitted. It was submitted that the judge had ‘mentored’ Paine and there was a ‘close connection’ between the two which required her to recuse herself. The claimant suggested the ‘professional embarrassment here is all too plain and obvious’ and suggested Paine had been the judge’s protégé.
The defendants said the complaint of apparent bias was ‘plainly incorrect’ and said that membership of the same chambers did not give rise to an appearance of bias.
The judge said she had been Paines’ pupil supervisor for three months in 2012 and a member of the same chambers for six years and that their relationship was a professional one.
The judge also refused to recuse herself over complaints about her conduct when the hearing ended last week with the claimant apparently collapsing in court.
Steyn said she was not aware the claimant had collapsed, and the mere fact that criticisms had been levelled at a judge did not itself give rise to an appearance of bias.