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‘Deeply worrying’: Master of the Rolls criticises Justice Smith over bias allegations

High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Smith has seen his position come under further scrutiny following damning criticism from Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson yesterday (16 June) over the Saudi royals trial.

Justice Smith is under fire for a letter which suggested bias against Blackstone Chambers, which emerged during a case brought by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and his son Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd. The claim relates to a multimillion-pound award made to the ‘secret wife’ of the late king.

Describing Justice Smith’s letter as ‘disgraceful’ and claiming the High Court judge had acted in a ‘shocking’, manner, Lord Dyson added that his behaviour showed ‘a deeply worrying and fundamental lack of understanding of the proper role of a judge.’

The comments came yesterday as Lord Dyson, sitting with Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice McFarlane, allowed an appeal by the prince which allows the case to be tried by a different judge.

While court ruled there was no apparent bias, it granted the appeal on several grounds due to ‘serious’ shortcomings in the way the judge dealt with evidential issues.

Smith, who faced an investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) last year after a recusal from high-profile litigation involving British Airways (BA), was angry after an article written by Lord Pannick QC about the dispute appeared in The Times Newspaper.

After reading the article by Lord Pannick, a member of Blackstone Chambers who also represented the prince at an early stage in the case, Smith wrote to Anthony Peto QC joint head of Blackstone Chambers, saying that the ‘outrageous’ article caused ‘a lot of grief and a lot of trouble.’ He 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.’

Justice Smith has faced controversy several times before, and is well known as the judge who heard the Da Vinci Code case and dismissed a breach of copyright claim against its author Dan Brown, embedding a code within the judgment for his own amusement. He further came under scrutiny in 2008 when reprimanded by the Lord Chief Justice for his misconduct relating to Addleshaw Goddard. After engaging in conversations with the firm over the possibility of employment, he was then assigned to a case against the firm and was removed for bias.

Howard Kennedy partner Steven Morris, who represented the royals said Justice Smith’s earlier decision had been ‘unsatisfactory’.

He added: ‘The judgment of the Court of Appeal has re-affirmed the confidence of the Prince in the fair and independent resolution of disputes before the English Courts. That confidence was severely undermined by the judgment of Mr Justice Peter Smith.’