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Joshua Rozenberg
Tuesday 1st February 2011
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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The Old Engineer
June 22nd, 2012
8:06 AM
Margaret and Joshua, may I suggest that your spat, vtal though it no doubt may be, would be better conducted in private? I, for one, same hear to learn more about Mr Justice Peter Smith.

February 2nd, 2011
11:02 AM
Is this case not further evidence of a vendetta (concerted or not) by Chancery Appeal Court Judges against a puisne judge whose face does not fit the traditional mould of Chancery judges?

February 1st, 2011
5:02 PM
It seems Justice Smith isn't the only one demonstrating poor judgment here.

Margaret Taylor
February 1st, 2011
2:02 PM
Hi Joshua, I'm afraid I have nothing to do with subscriptions but you can find a digital edition of our magazine on our website every Monday. There's no paywall on there so it's free for everyone to access. In any case, the story and blog in question went straight onto our website and were also on The Lawyer's Twitter feed and the Twitter feed of our litigation reporter, Katy Dowell - all of which are free, easy to access and picked up by Google alerts. We have a series of email alerts (Lawyer News Daily, Lawyer in New York, Lawyer Litigation Weekly, Public Sector Watch and Offshore Monthly) that link to all our top stories - it's very easy to sign up and you can do so here: I'm sure they'll prove an invaluable tool....

Joshua Rozenberg
February 1st, 2011
1:02 PM
Margaret Taylor's sarcasm is misplaced. I did not know that The Lawyer had broken the story. If I had, I would not have credited its rival. I tried many times to get a subscription to the print edition of The Lawyer without success, even though I am a former contributor and it was distributed free to lawyers. Margaret Taylor could find out easily enough that I am not a subscriber to her litigation email. I suggest The Lawyer should put a little more effort into its press and public relations.

Margaret Taylor
February 1st, 2011
8:02 AM
Dear Joshua, I believe you are 'Britain's best-known commentator on the law'. I take it this means you read all the UK's legal press as a matter of course. In which case you will know that the Peter Smith J story was broken on our website - - on 25 January: Our blog on the same subject appeared on 26 January: This was alerted in our weekly litigation email, which I trust you are a subscriber to.

February 1st, 2011
8:02 AM
The decision was reported in The Lawyer three days before Legal Week - I would have expected a journalist to be a little more rigorous with his fact-checking

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About Joshua Rozenberg

Joshua Rozenberg is an independent legal commentator who presents Law in Action on BBC Radio 4.

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