The patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon are excellent characteristics for a judge. But when an airline loses their luggage, can’t find it for two weeks, and doesn’t apologise or explain, a judge might be forgiven for forgetting such qualities.
When Mr Justice Peter Smith, a High Court judge, found himself in that very position, and then found the offending airline appearing before him in court, he asked the natural question – where are my bags?
British Airways, the airline in question, declined to answer his question and then added insult to injury by requesting that he stand aside from hearing one of the biggest competition battles to reach the UK courts – involving allegations of overcharging customers for carrying cargo.
Sir Peter, famous for hiding a coded message in his judgment on a copyright battle over Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code in 2006, even threatened to have BA’s chief executive summonsed to appear before him to explain the fate of his luggage.
Now the judge has agreed to step aside or “recuse” himself from the trial, but not before making it plain he didn’t think any “reasonably minded observer would think, merely because I raised issues about the non-delivery of my luggage, that it should raise the possibility of bias”.
The suggested request for the judge to stand down was part of a campaign by the airline to have him removed from the case, according to sources within the trial.
BA’s lawyer’s had previously argued for the judge’s removal after claiming that he did not have competition expertise.
A new judge will not be appointed for the long-running case, which dates back to 2006 when BA was raided by European Commission officials over suspicions of price-fixing in its air cargo business. The EC later ruled that BA and a number of other airlines colluded to fix air cargo charges.
The airlines are now being sued by several hundred companies for losses and damages they say they suffered as a result.
Both British Airways and its legal advisers, Slaughter & May, declined to comment on the incident.
Sir Peter has found himself embroiled in similar controversies in the past. In 2008, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice at the time, reprimanded him for failing to stand down in a case of legal professional negligence he was hearing.
It later emerged that Sir Peter had been involved in discussions to join one of the legal firms involved in the case, but the negotiations had ended acrimoniously and the firm claimed the judge had shown animosity towards it afterwards. Sir Peter was criticised by Appeal Court judges and the matter was referred to the Office of Judicial Conduct – the first time a senior judge had been referred to it.
Travel agenda - 13/03/2015
Travel agenda - 13/03/2015
1/8 Bus plus
Singapore Airlines is offering fares until June that include free National Express coach transfers from a range of cities in England and Wales. These tickets protect you in the event of delay or cancellation en route to the airport. Once a charge becomes applicable, a fare from Birmingham to Bali jumps from £545 to £840.
2/8 Malé warning
The Foreign Office is warning visitors to the Maldives that street protests are taking place most evenings in the capital, Malé. "Remain vigilant, take appropriate security precautions and avoid large gatherings, protests and rallies," says the latest advice.
3/8 In at No 1
In at No 1
1 Hotel South Beach opens on 23 March in Miami Beach. It goes against the glossy Art Deco grain with a New England beach house aesthetic and has several pools, one of which sits next to the beach itself. Guests can hire bikes, jet skis and cabañas, order a picnic basket or a dish from a rotating roster of farm producers, or simply bask on the beach. Doubles from $378 (£252) in low season.
4/8 Arc life
The story of Joan of Arc will be told in depth from next Saturday, when the Historial Jeanne d'Arc opens in the city where she died, Rouen. More than €10m has been spent on creating the attraction. Open daily, except Monday, admission €9.50.
5/8 Ski longer
Healthy snow conditions in some high-altitude European resorts has persuaded Neilson to extend the ski season. It has added departures to Les Deux Alpes and Tignes in the French Alps for 11 April, with prices including flights from Gatwick, transfers and half-board accommodation at £400 or less.
6/8 Retro route
The very first Ryanair route connected Waterford in southern Ireland with Luton. The airline dropped it decades ago, but from 27 April VLM starts flying the link twice daily. There are also four weekly services from Birmingham to Waterford.
7/8 Fast track
Domestic passengers on British Airways arriving at London City airport can leave their checked-in baggage behind, so long as they have pre-booked the AirPortr carousel collection service. For between £25 and £45 for the first bag (depending on the destination), your luggage will be delivered within the M25 area. International arrivals are expected to be included soon.
8/8 Better late ...
Better late ...
The opening date for the Mandarin Oriental in Marrakech has been moved back, but bookings are now being accepted from 18 June. Several villas and suites have private pools. The property is south east of the centre, a 10-minute drive away.
A reprimand is at the lower end of the scale of possible OJC punishments.
Lord Phillips said later: “I consider a firm line has now been drawn under this matter. Both I and the Lord Chancellor value the services of Mr Justice Peter Smith.”Reuse content