10:44, July 25 182 0 theguardian.com

2020-07-25 10:44:03
Judge removed from child welfare case over 'pejorative' remarks about mother

A high court judge has been taken off a case centred on the care of a child after “pejorative comments” she made about the child’s mother were accidentally broadcast to people taking part in a hearing remotely.

Mrs Justice Judd had said the woman was pretending to have a cough and was trying “every trick in the book” to avoid answering difficult questions, not realising that a link to the virtual courtroom remained open on her laptop.

Appeal court judges upheld a challenge from the child’s mother asking Judd to step down from the case, after the private telephone conversation with her clerk was heard by legal representatives taking part via videolink.

Judd had refused the request because she believed the “process of a fair trial” had not been undermined. The child’s mother mounted a successful appeal, saying Judd’s comments were capable of “giving rise to a real possibility of bias”.

The three appeal court judges, Lord Justice Bean, Lady Justice King and Lady Justice Davies, concluded that a “fair-minded observer” might think Judd had formed an “unfair view” of the woman.

Judd had been overseeing a private hearing in the family division of the high court, in a courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice in London earlier this month. She did not realise her comments would be broadcast as she spoke on the phone in her office following proceedings in the hearing.

King said what had happened was a consequence of the “tremendous pressure” family court judges were under as they tried to “keep the show on the road”.

She said: “During the course of that conversation, the judge’s frustration at what represented a further delay in a case which was already substantially overrunning its three-week time estimate, manifested itself in a number of pejorative comments made by her about [the woman] including that she was pretending to have a cough and was trying ‘every trick in the book’ in order to avoid answering difficult questions.”

There was no suggestion that Judd had shown any prior bias or conducted a “difficult hearing” with less than scrupulous fairness, King added, saying Judd greatly regretted what had happened and was a “hard-working” judge.