British High Court Judge Who Complained 33x About His Lost Luggage During 3 Billion Pound British Airways Collusion Case Just Retired

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Remember the British High Court Judge who complained 33 times to British Airways barrister about his personal luggage issues while presiding over a 3 Billion Pound collusion case? Well, he just retired!

Justice Peter Smith was suspended for 18 months (with full pay) and less than a week away before facing a disciplinary hearing, certainly a good time to retire.

The matter dates back about a decade when British Airways began to face a multi billion pound legal action for fixing cargo rates by the European Union and the case eventually ended up in the British High Court, where things got increasingly bizarre when Mr Justice Peter Smith began to grill BA’s barrister about his personal customer service issues with the airline, in particular a case of lost baggage.

Smith wasn’t able to leave the matter alone, in fact the minutes show that he mentioned the issue a total of 33 times during the proceedings despite being told multiple times by the barristers that it’s improper to bring up his personal issues while presiding over this case. He even threatened to summon British Airways Chief Executive to court.

When this all became public knowledge and British Airways applied for the judge to recuse himself from the case (he eventually agreed) The Daily Mail (access here) first wrote about the crazy case.

Amid accusations of bias, Mr Justice Peter Smith, one of the country’s most senior – and colourful – judges, has agreed to step down from the case. The High Court judge was hearing a dispute involving BA, tens of thousands of firms and 30 other airlines in London.

But coincidentally, after his baggage went missing on a recent trip to Italy, he had sent emails to BA’s chairman using his judicial title, accusing staff of deliberately leaving behind all the plane’s luggage and deceiving passengers.

Unfortunately, he then decided to include his own baggage woes in the separate multi-billion-pound case being played out in his court room.

In an extraordinary rant, Mr Justice Smith threatened to order BA’s chief executive to the court to explain how a whole aeroplane’s luggage could accidentally go missing before his bags ‘spontaneously’ turned up at his home last week.

He told BA’s legal team, led by Jon Turner QC: ‘Right, Mr Turner, here is a question for you: what happened to [the] luggage?’ …

But when BA’s legal team applied for the judge to stand aside this week, he agreed. A new judge will now have to be appointed in his place to preside over the case, dating back to 2006, over a European Commission ruling that BA was guilty of colluding to fix air cargo charges.

Mr Justice Smith is known as one of the legal profession’s most characterful figures, having hidden a message in a High Court judgment relating to the Da Vinci Code copyright trial.

So far so good. That was back in 2015. Since then disciplinary reviews have been brought on the way against Justice Smith and he was suspended for the last 18 months, receiving full pay. Smith is now 65 years old and was supposed to face further disciplinary action next week but chose to conveniently retire just before that.

A new Daily Mail article (see here) refreshed the memory of those following the case and also published part of the minutes.

A senior judge who complained about lost luggage 33 times during a case involving British Airways has quit, meaning he will retire before his disciplinary hearing can start.

Mr Justice Peter Smith resigned yesterday ahead of proceedings scheduled to begin on Monday.

The 65-year-old was suspended for 18 months on a full pay of £181,566 after complaining about his missing luggage.

He also wrote a letter about a barrister the Court of Appeal described as ‘shocking’ and ‘disgraceful’.

The judge had complained about bags that were misplaced when he was moved from one British Airways flight to another.

Retiring before being hauled before a review board (or whatever the due process in the UK is in such cases) is certainly a good idea before ending a such an important career in disgrace or making it even worse that it has already been.

From reading through the minutes it appears British Airways Customer Relations doesn’t extend special considerations to VIP’s – everybody receives the same shoddy service (talk about equal opportunities).

The Justice purchased a BA ticket to Italy and claims he was then changed to a Vueling low cost carrier flight. Vueling then left the entire plane load of baggage behind at the origin. Since then Mr. Justice Smith tried to get to the bottom of this matter but has never received a satisfactory response from either British Airways or Vueling.

… Justice Peter Smith (PS): If the dispute over the luggage had gone to litigation, you are not saying I shouldn’t have told the parties in this litigation of that dispute, are you? I just find that an impossible submission. I just wonder what thunderbolts would have come in my direction if your solicitors had found out that I was in a dispute with BA and not told them, and BA didn’t know of my connection with this litigation and I commenced proceedings against BA, and then I suddenly tell your lawyers that: oh, by the way, I am suing your clients. Are you seriously suggesting there isn’t a necessary linkage that has got to be ventilated?

Jon Turner, QC (JT): Our position, my Lord, is that where your Lordship initiates a personal dispute with British Airways –

PS: I didn’t initiate a personal dispute. BA’s associated company retained my luggage. It is not my fault that that happened. I am the victim. I read the whole of your correspondence. The more I read it, I got the impression that BA was trying to portray itself of the victim of this case and being oppressed by wicked Mr Justice Peter Smith. It is just ridiculous.

The reason I called you and Mr Harris and your lawyers in was that I wanted to head off a situation whereby it would escalate out of control and lead to the present application.

JT: My Lord, I do understand that and this is not a criticism of your Lordship’s motivations in any way. …

JT: My Lord, you know, of course, that this was not a BA aeroplane. This was another operator.

PS: In the same group.

JT: This is a Spanish low cost operator.

PS: That itself is an interesting story, because I bought my ticket with BA and I was given a BA flight number, until the day before I signed in, when it suddenly got changed to a Vueling number.

I didn’t contract with Vueling. I contracted with BA. I signed up with BA. BA took my money. BA had the responsibility for my luggage. In fact, BA had the responsibility for me being able to get onto the flight. Your code sharing now explains to me why the plane was possibly overloaded or underloaded, because the people might have code shared more than there are. But my contract was with BA and, frankly, for BA to tell me, their “customer helpline”, was that it was nothing to do with them was, shall I say, economic with the actualité.

Read the full minutes as published. It’s certainly amusing.

Conclusion

This case is just weird but it shows that British Airways customer service can clearly drive someone insane – even a high court judge.

Not sure what he initially thought would be the outcome of this. I fail to believe he actually expected this to go down in a productive way. If he really wanted to get back at British Airways the best would probably have been to just drop his personal grievances and find a legally sound reason to rule against them.

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