Red card for `worst judge in Britain'

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The Independent Online
The man voted the "worst judge in Britain" made legal history yesterday by resigning after a report concluded that his conduct had weakened "public confidence in the whole judicial process".

The decision by Sir Jeremiah Harman, 67, to stand down from his pounds 112,011 job as a High Court judge follows a controversial career, which has seen one of the judiciary's most senior members regularly criticised for being rude and a bully. Fifteen of his judgments are current being challenged in the Court of Appeal.

It is believed to be the first time that a High Court judge has resigned after criticism, and his departure raises questions about who polices the 100 High Court judges. Only Parliament can sack a judge, although this power has never been used.

Three Court of Appeal judges yesterday published a damning report of Mr Justice Harman's treatment of a farmer bankrupted by a confidence trickster, who was kept waiting for 20 months before judgment was given in his negligence action against accountants.

Some lawyers were so concerned at the amount of time the judge was ruminating on the case that they contemplated taking out an insurance policy in case he died.

Mr Justice Harman contacted the Lord Chancellor after hearing his fellow judges' critical comments and told him of his intention to resign from 20 April. Lord Irvine accepted the resignation and a statement from the Lord Chancellor's Department said he was "extremely concerned" about the lengthy delays in giving judgment. He added that he had noted the comments of the appeal judges and "shares their concerns".

Lords Justice Peter Gibson, Brooke and Mummery ordered a retrial of the farmer Rex Goose's case after hearing that Mr Justice Harman had forgotten large parts of the essential facts and evidence in the case by the time he came to give judgment. They accused him of making incorrect statements and mistakes in the judgment.

The case began on 7 June 1994 and legal argument ended on 13 July. It was then that the wait for judgment - one of the longest on record - began.

When he finally delivered he dismissed the case. Mr Goose, a farmer of Spalding, Lincolnshire, had claimed damages arising from allegations that accountants involved in the purchase of farm property in France had been in breach of their duty of care for ownership of property and had acted deceitfully.

Lord Justice Peter Gibson said in his judgment yesterday: "The court is driven to take this exceptional course [a retrial] on the ground that a substantial miscarriage of justice would be occasioned to Mr Goose by allowing the judge's decision to stand."

He added: "Conduct like this weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process. Left unchecked it would be ultimately subversive of the rule of law. Delays on this scale cannot and will not be tolerated. A situation like this must never occur again."

The resignation ends a 16-year career as a High Court judge, in which Mr Justice Harman gained notoriety for his ignorance of the wider world. He famously claimed to be unaware of the existence of Paul Gascoigne, Bruce Springsteen and Oasis. And he once told a woman witness who wanted to be referred to as Ms: "I've always thought there were only three kinds of women: wives, whores and mistresses."

Legal Business, the magazine which carried out the poll in which he was voted the profession's least favourite judge in three separate years, also dubbed him "dreadfully rude, discourteous, bullying ... very unpredictable and nasty", although it noted his intellectual capacity. The magazine's deputy editor, Sarah Marks, said Mr Justice Harman was not the only case of a poor judge.

She said: "Bad teachers can be sacked and bad doctors struck off. But judges seem to go on for ever and ever."

The world

according to

Mr Justice

Harman

"Who is Gazza? Isn't there an operetta called La Gazza Ladra?"

"I've always thought there were only three kinds of women: wives, whores and mistresses."

On Oasis: "I certainly have not heard of the band."

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