BA luggage judge Peter Smith retires days before disciplinary
Gill Allen for The Times
A High Court judge who had been effectively suspended for 18 months retired days before he was to face a disciplinary hearing that could have led to his removal from the bench.
In a statement on Friday, it was announced that Mr Justice Peter Smith, 65, retired as of October 28, which means that he will face no disciplinary action.
The senior judge in the High Court’s chancery division, who has been suspended on full pay of £181,566, had posed the judiciary with one of its biggest headaches in decades. He faced two serious complaints: first that he made repeated comments about his own missing luggage when hearing a case involving British Airways; and second that he wrote a letter about a barrister that the Court of Appeal condemned as “shocking” and “disgraceful”.
The judge had agreed not to sit in May 2016, pending investigations, meaning that he was effectively suspended on full pay. However, disciplinary proceedings could not begin after doctors agreed that he was mentally unfit to attend a hearing or respond to allegations. Finally, a hearing date was set for today and tomorrow.
On Friday the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) issued a statement confirming that it had launched an investigation into the British Airways comments in July 2015 and then into the second case in May 2016. It added: “Mr Justice Peter Smith retires with effect from 28th October 2017. In accordance with JCIO rules, all conduct investigations cease immediately when a judicial office holder retires, and as such investigations into Mr Justice Peter Smith cease on that date with no outcome.”
Senior judges will have breathed a sigh of relief. If the hearing had led to a recommendation that the judge step down and he had refused, then the only way to have removed him from the High Court bench would have been through the lord chief justice and lord chancellor seeking an unprecedented motion of both houses of parliament.
Mr Justice Peter Smith has a colourful record. In 2006, he found that the author Dan Brown had not breached copyright when writing his best-seller The Da Vinci Code, and then inserted a code himself into his ruling.
And he has run into trouble before this latest round of complaints. In 2008 the Office for Judicial Complaints reprimanded the judge after he failed to step down from a case involving a law firm with whom he had had negotiations over the possibility of joining them on a £750,000-a-year package. The Court of Appeal criticised his “wholly inappropriate” behaviour in that case and his actions were found to amount to misconduct.
In 2011 the Court of Appeal ordered him to stand down from a case brought against law firm Mills & Reeve after he expressed views seen as sympathetic to the firm.