For the past 16 years, Sir Jeremiah Harman, 67, a senior High Court judge, has been acquiring a reputation as a hectoring bully with little interest in the outside world. News yesterday that he was resigning after a damning report into his handling of a damages case, in which the claimants were kept waiting for 20 months for a decision, was greeted with relief by many lawyers. Three Court of Appeal judges were critical of conduct which "weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process".
His unpopularity was reflected in being voted as one of the worst judges on the High Court bench in all three surveys of 100 solicitors and barristers by Legal Business magazine. One interviewee said: "He has reached unparalleled depths of awfulness. It is nothing short of an uncomfortable adventure to appear before him, and in terms of delivering justice he is nowhere. He is impolite. He is the judge I least want to appear in front of."
He gained public attention for a number of high-profile gaffes. When the former guards officer was asked if he had heard of the rock group Oasis during a 1996 court hearing, he replied: "I certainly have not heard of the band, I don't listen to bands."At a hearing during the height of World Cup fever in 1990 when asked to grant an injunction halting an unauthorised biography of Paul Gascoigne, he said: "Is he a rugby or association footballer? Isn't there an operetta called La Gazza Ladra?"
In 1992, he earned the nickname "the Kicking Judge" after he booted a taxi driver outside his London home under the mistaken impression he was a press photographer.
But it is his treatment of other lawyers that has gained him the greatest notoriety. One said he was "dreadfully rude to people who are junior and inexperienced; discourteous and bullying".
His latest targets have been the new solicitor advocates who have rights of audience in certain cases. The first one to appear before the judge was asked to provide a copy of his practising certificate after the judge inquired loftily: "Who are you?"
He was called to the Bar in 1954 and graduated to the bench along the time-honoured route of Eton, the Coldstream Guards and Lincoln's Inn.
His resignation brought a mixed response from members of the Bar at the High Court yesterday. One woman barrister said: "Good riddance to bad rubbish." But a male colleague countered: "I deplore this tendency towards uniformity. There must be room for mavericks, even on the bench. If they stick to being rude and irascible but efficient at the same time, it's all right."
what fellow lawyers said about him
Anonymous lawyers to Legal Business magazine: "Good riddance to bad rubbish."
And "He has reached unparalleled depths of awfulness."
Judgment in the Court of Appeal: His conduct "weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process".
Male barrister speaking in his support: "I deplore this tendency towards uniformity - there must be room for mavericks."