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Judicial watchdog investigates Justice Peter Smith after BA ‘lost luggage’ case

Mr Justice Peter Smith is set to face an investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) after his recent recusal from the high-profile litigation involving British Airways (BA).

Justice Smith emailed BA requesting an explanation as to why a plane load of passengers’ luggage had been left off a flight he and his wife had taken from Florence to London. He further asked BA’s legal team, Slaughter and May and Monckton Chambers’ Jon Turner QC, to enquire into the case. BA’s lawyers subsequently accused him of bias and requested his recusal from the price-fixing litigation.

Smith earlier this month recused himself but used his judgment to explain about BA losing his luggage and further ‘exploiting’ the situation to have him removed from the case, which involves a dispute brought by several hundred claimants that alleges BA and 22 other airlines were part of a cartel involved in price-fixing air cargo services.

In a judgment published on Tuesday (28 July), he said: ‘I signed my emails as my judicial capacity to alert the Chairman to the fact that this was not merely an issue of a disgruntled consumer. For reasons which I set out below was essential that his office knew about the proceedings and those conducting the proceedings knew about the complaint. I also advised him to contact the lawyers conducting this litigation on BA’s behalf.’

Smith also argued in his judgment it is impossible to keep the two issues ‘separate’. ‘That is not to say that I should ever use the litigation to try and get better treatment or better return of my luggage. I have made it clear all along to the lawyers that I was not concerned about that. I was concerned about why because of the potential similarity between claims in this litigation and the claims in respect of the luggage and the fact that the entirety of the passengers’ luggage was left behind. So, at the earliest opportunity, I called in the lawyers into my room and explained the position to them.’

A spokesperson for the JCIO confirmed Smith is now being investigated.

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 using an embedded 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.