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Nick of time – controversial judge Smith retires ending conduct investigations

Mr Justice Peter Smith, the controversial judge at the centre of two investigations by the Judicial Conduct and Investigations Office (JCIO), has retired. The move brings to an end all investigations and was announced just before he was set to be the subject of a disciplinary panel hearing today (30 October) and tomorrow (31 October).

Smith had been the subject of an investigation launched in 2015 by the JCIO that centred on his behaviour in a trial involving British Airways (BA), where he had to recuse himself after getting into a dispute with the airline over his lost luggage.

Smith’s role in the BA case then became the subject of a critical article in The Times by Lord Pannick QC of Blackstone Chambers, to which Smith J responded with a letter to head of chambers Anthony Peto QC that concluded: ‘I will no longer support your chambers. Please make that clear to members.’

The letter went on to form the basis of an appeal on Smith’s judgment in Harb v Aziz, on the grounds of bias, since the losing side was represented by members of Blackstone Chambers. The Court of Appeal since ordered that the trial be conducted by a different judge, and criticised Smith over his ‘disgraceful’ and ‘worrying’ letter.

The JCIO said in a statement: ‘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.’

Justice Smith has been the centre of controversy several times before. He notoriously presided over 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 also 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.

For more views from senior barristers and disputes partners on the best and worst on the bench, read ‘Judging the judges – identifying the stand-outs among the judiciary’