The court ruled that, although comments of the type made by the judge were ‘not to be encouraged’, an objective observer would not take the view that the claimant was denied a fair hearing. Very substantial car hire claims were scrutinised carefully by the courts and the evidence in support of the claimant’s plea that he ‘needed’ a replacement Rolls Royce had been vague and unspecific.
The claimant received a wry response after informing the judge at first instance that a luxury car was expected by his clientele – which included foreign heads of state, middle-eastern royalty and football stars. After commenting on the ‘superficial if not false nature of the warped values of society’, the judge said of the claimant’s clients: ‘Missing from the list are counsel in this case, myself and all Lords Justice of Appeal’.
The claimant was refused any award in respect of the more than £92,000 he spent on renting a replacement Rolls Royce – at a rate of almost £2,000-a-day – whilst his own was off the road. On appeal, the claimant argued that the judge had shown a ‘hostile animus’ towards him and that the comments he made amounted to a ‘serious irregularity’ in the trial process. He had been awarded £8,709 in respect of the damage to the Rolls Royce, but that was less than a tenth of the sum that he had claimed.
The judge had noted that the damaged car had been ‘perfectly driveable’ after the accident and that the claimant could have used another car from a fleet of seven luxury vehicles kept by his business. He commented: “This case raises the moral question which has occasioned me much anxious thought…whether the ever increasing insurance premiums of the ordinary motorist, particularly one struggling to make ends meet and needing a modest car to go to work, should in some part be used so that the rich may continue, at no expense to themselves, to be filled with the good things that they think they need.”
When the claimant explained that the replacement Rolls Royce was needed to maintain his image and that of his business, the judge remarked: “Well, what a testament that is to the superficial if not false nature of the warped values of society.”
Dismissing the claimant’s appeal, Lord Justice Pill said: “There is no claim of actual bias and no evidence of a predisposition to find against rich men or against claimants. The comments that were made were made consciously and openly. The court puts itself in the place of a fair-minded and informed observer. Such an observer would not in my judgment doubt the ability of the judge to consider the evidence fairly and objectively. A judge’s training, experience and instincts are to apply legal principles regardless of his own view. There is nothing in this case to suggest that the judge neglected his duties or overlooked his responsibilities.”
The judge added: “Comments of the kind made by the judge are not to be encouraged but the manner and openness of their expression in this case encourages, rather than discourages, a conclusion that he was well aware of his responsibility to consider the evidence fairly and to decide the case, not on a personal whim, but on legal principles and in accordance with the evidence”