Watts v Watts EWCA Civ 1297
The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of the Defendant in Watts v Watts [2014 EWHC 341(Ch)] against the decision of Catherine Newman QC, (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge) not to recuse herself from the original trial. Leave had been sought but was not granted to appeal against the Judgment itself ( EWHC 668(Ch)) which found in favour of our client, the Claimant. The Appellant considered that the Judge should have recused herself believing that there were grounds of appearance of bias as the Judge was leading the Respondent’s barrister, Jordan Holland, in an entirely separate and unconnected matter at the time of the trial.
Amongst other issues, Counsel for the Appellant argued that the Judge should have revealed the nature of the litigation in which she was leading the Respondent’s Counsel in case the two cases were so similarly aligned as to cause the Judge to have an interest in the outcome of the Watts case. Lord Justice Sales disagreed stating (at para 23) "To my mind, it is clear that she behaved entirely correctly in giving the disclosure that she did."
The Appeal Judgment comes almost five years since the death of Mrs Watts and almost two years since the original trial where the Defendant was held by the Judge to have signed his mother’s will.
This argument proves too much. I cannot accept it. The notional fair-minded and informed observer, knowing the professional standards applied by part time judges drawn from the legal profession, would understand that any deputy judge who found that she was being asked to try a case in relation to subject matter where there was a real risk that her ruling in the case (which would of course acquire a degree of authority as the ruling of a court) might have a bearing on the arguments to be advanced in other ongoing litigation in which she was involved as counsel, would immediately for that reason recuse herself.