Social encounters with barristers “no reason” for a judge’s recusal

Social situations are small beer for judges

Social situations are small beer for judges

There is no basis for seeking the recusal of a specialist judge because they may socialise with barristers that appear before them, the High Court has said.

Mr Justice Holman was ruling in a long-running financial remedies dispute between a divorcing husband and wife, in which the wife, representing herself, had in June applied that District Judge Hess should recuse himself from hearing her application.

Holman J recounted that the basis of this seemed to be the wife’s belief that DJ Hess and Patrick Chamberlayne QC, who had from time to time acted for the husband, “had some sort of familiarity with each other, and specifically that they had both spoken together at some seminar a few months earlier”.

He continued: “It appears that the truth with regard to the seminar was that on the same day they were both speaking at seminars organised by the same company, Jordans, but that one of them was speaking in Newcastle and the other in London.

“More generally, District Judge Hess was to explain in his ruling on the recusal application that it was probably true of every single barrister practising in this field that there may be casual social encounters between the barrister and judges, either after the judge became a judge, or indeed earlier when the judge was still a practitioner.”

DJ Hess ruled: “This is probably true of every single barrister in this field. These social events have many hundreds of people at them at any one time. To suggest that a judge should recuse himself, or herself, on the basis of having attended [a Family Law Bar Association] event at the same time as a barrister appearing before him/her is a completely inappropriate suggestion and totally without merit.”

Refusing the wife’s application for permission to appeal this, Holman J said: “I absolutely agree with every word that District Judge Hess said in his judgment on that topic. Frankly, if every time a judge had had some passing encounter, social or otherwise, with a specialist barrister in a specialist field the judge had to recuse himself, there would be few cases that could be effectively heard.”

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