Judge shows poor judgment once again

Mr Justice Peter Smith has been taken off a case after expressing strong views about a defendant law firm - and not for the first time.

I am grateful to Legal Week for alerting me to this decision, delivered by the Court of Appeal on 20 January.

The case was brought in 2008 by relatives of a businessman who died during a heart operation two weeks after he had agreed to a management buy-out. This left his daughters liable for £1.3m in inheritance tax. They argue that the law firm Mills & Reeve should have advised the businessman to delay the buy-out until after the operation, thus avoiding the adverse tax consequences.

It turned out that Mr Justice Peter Smith “had personal direct experience of a procedure which was either the same as or very similar to that which [the businessman] underwent”.

Last month, the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. Lord Justice Lloyd said:

The judge has expressed strong views as to the prospects of that claim, as I have mentioned above. He has also expressed strong views unfavourable to the defendants, though not in relation to this aspect of the case. In those circumstances it seems to me plain that when the trial starts again, it should be heard by a different judge. 

This is not the first time that Mr Justice Peter Smith has expressed strong views about a law firm.

In 2007, I argued that Mr Justice Peter Smith had lost his judgment and should leave the bench.

I stand by what I said then, although I subsequently apologised to the judge for revealing that he had been suffering from a serious illness of which some members of his family had, at that time, been unaware.

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