The son of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has won an appeal against a multi-million-pound award handed to his father's “secret wife”. Palestinian-born Janan Harb, won a package of cash and property worth more than £20m last November. Judge Peter Smith, sitting at London's High Court, accepted her assertions that Prince Abdul Aziz, had agreed to the huge payout. But lawyers for the prince later asked Court of Appeal judges to quash the “unsustainable” award.
On Thursday, Lord John Dyson and Lord Justices Martin Moore-Bick and Andrew McFarlane announced that they were allowing the prince's appeal. They said Ms Harb's claim against the prince would now have to be retried before a different High Court judge. Ms Harb said the prince entered into the agreement to “buy her silence” over her relationship with his father. She said the agreement was reached when the prince met her at the Dorchester Hotel in London on 20 June 2003, while the king was seriously ill.
The prince denies her claim. But Judge Smith ruled in November that, although her behaviour was “unattractive”, Ms Harb was “telling the truth” about the agreement. He declared she was entitled to £12m, plus interest, and two luxury flats in Chelsea, south-west London, worth around £5m. The appeal judges said Mr Smith's “approach to the evidence was unsatisfactory in a number of significant respects”. Lord Dyson announced that the court “has concluded that the shortcomings in the way in which the judge dealt with the evidential issues in the case were so serious that the appeal must be allowed for that reason”. The judges did reject an allegation of “bias” made against him.
During the hearing of the appeal last month, Lord Anthony Grabiner QC, for the prince, said the judge had failed to analyse the evidence properly. The judge had also written a “shocking letter revealing possible bias” against Blackstone Chambers, the legal chambers which provided the barristers representing the prince. Lord Grabiner said the letter was prompted by a newspaper article by Lord Philip Pannick QC, a member of the chambers who appeared for the prince at an early stage in the Harb case.
Lord Pannick's article criticised the judge's handling of an unrelated case involving British Airways, in which the judge recused himself after demanding to know what had happened to his own luggage on a flight home from Florence. Lord Pannick had written that the case “raises serious issues about judicial conduct that need urgent consideration by the lord chief justice”. In response, the judge wrote to Anthony Peto QC, one of two heads of Blackstone Chambers, saying: “The quite outrageous article of Pannick caused me a lot of grief and a lot of trouble.” He added: “I will no longer support your chambers, please make that clear to members of your chambers. I do not wish to be associated with chambers that have people like Pannick in it.”
Lord Grabiner told the appeal judges that the “shocking and indefensible” letter was clear evidence of possible bias against the chambers and could have affected the outcome of the Harb case. Lord Dyson said the ground of appeal was that there was an appearance of bias on the part of the judge against the prince's counsel, and thereby against the prince himself. He announced that the court “is very critical of the judge for writing the letter”, but had concluded that “the informed and fair-minded observer would not conclude that there was a real possibility” that the judge was biased against the prince.
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