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Saturday, February 14, 1998 Published at 02:30 GMT


Judge resigns after damning report from colleagues
image: [ Mr Justice Harman resigned after being accused of
Mr Justice Harman resigned after being accused of "weakening public confidence"

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Controversial High Court judge Mr Justice Harman has resigned after being accused by three senior Court of Appeal judges of conduct which "weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process".

The appeal judges were commenting after reviewing Mr Justice Harman's treatment of a case concerning bankrupted farmer, Rex Goose, who was kept waiting for 20 months before judgement was given.

Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg discusses the controversy (2'30")
They have ordered the case of Mr Goose, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, to be retried to avoid a miscarriage of justice.

Resignation accepted

[ image: Lord Irvine: shared concerns]
Lord Irvine: shared concerns
Mr Justice Harman, 67, contacted the Lord Chancellor after hearing his fellow judges' comments and told him of his intention to resign on April 20. This was accepted by Lord Irvine.

A statement from the Lord Chancellor's Department said Lord Irvine was "extremely concerned" about the lengthy delays in giving judgment in the case and that he had noted the comments of the appeal judges and "shares their concerns".

Lord Justices Gibson, Brooke and Mummery ordered a retrial of the farmer's case after hearing Mr Justice Harman had forgotten large parts of the essential facts and evidence by the time he came to deliver judgement.

Miscarriage of justice

Lord Justice Gibson said in his judgment delivered on Friday: "The court is driven to take this exceptional course on the ground that a substantial miscarriage of justice would be occasioned to Mr Goose by allowing the judge's decision to stand.

"Litigation causes quite enough stress, as it is, for people to have to endure while a trial is going on.

"Compelling them to await judgement for an indefinitely extended period after the trial is over will only serve to prolong their anxiety, and may well increase it.

"Conduct like this weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process. Left unchecked it would be ultimately subversive of the rule of law.

"Delays on this scale cannot and will not be tolerated. A situation like this must never occur again."

End to a colourful career

Mr Justice Harman's resignation brings to an end a colourful career during which the ex-Guards officer has often been accused by junior members of the legal profession of being an intimidating bully.

He once caused uproar by kicking a taxi-driver sent to pick him up after mistaking him for a journalist.

The twice-married Harman was once reported to have "joked" in court: "I've always thought there were only three kinds of women: wives, whores and mistresses".

The out-of-touch judge once admitted he did not know who Paul Gascoigne, the England and Rangers' footballer, was and was similarly flummoxed by the names Oasis and Bruce Springsteen.

Rude, bullying and unpredictable

In January a poll in Legal Business magazine voted him Britain's worst judge for the third time.

The magazine acknowledged his great intellect but described him as "dreadfully rude, discourteous, bullying, very unpredictable and nasty".

While Mr Justice Harman's personality flaws have been highlighted often, Friday's judgement was the first time his intellectual integrity had been publicly questioned.

The appeal judges accused Mr Justice Harman of making incorrect statements and mistakes in his judgment of the farmer's case against a firm of chartered accountants, Wilson Sandford.

One of the reasons, said the appeal judges, was that Mr Justice Harman had lost his original trial notes by the time he came to give judgment.

Legal Business's deputy editor, Sarah Marks, said he was not the only bad judge around and said the system was powerless to remove them unless they, as in Mr Justice Harman's case, resigned.

She said: "Bad teachers can be sacked and bad doctors struck off. But judges seem to go on for ever and ever."

Judges can be removed by impeachment in Parliament but this has never happened in modern times.

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