The Guardian (UK): A law unto himself: A high court judge announced this week that he was quitting his job because it was just too boring. Surely Mr Justice Laddie's cases can't be as dull as all that? Stephen Moss took a seat in court 58 to find out": "Yesterday, Laddie was making one of his last appearances - he will officially step down on July 18: Friday 24 June 2005
Friday June 24, 2005
Mr Justice Laddie is not a man to mess about. He is to jurisprudence what the fast-scoring Australian batsman Adam Gilchrist is to cricket: he likes to get on with it; the forward defensive is not in his repertoire. When Justice Sir Hugh Laddie is presiding, the wheels of justice turn exceedingly quickly.
The judge, a mere stripling of 59, stunned the legal world this week when he announced that he was quitting the high court - the first judge voluntarily to give up his job since 1546. (I exaggerate slightly but take my word for it: in legal circles this was an earthquake.) He said he was bored, disliked the "isolation" of the bench, and missed the "fun of working in a team".
Yesterday, Laddie was making one of his last appearances - he will officially step down on July 18 and become a consultant with Willoughby and Partners, specialists in patent law (clearly, lots of fun to be had there). But is his old job really as boring as all that? Only one way to find out - head for the high court to watch him in action.
Laddie had, rather unfairly perhaps, been allocated court 58, when clearly his news value demanded that he be given one of the show courts. Would a retiring Wimbledon champion - a McEnroe or a Becker, even an Ivanisevic - be treated this way? He gets court 58 because he works in the Chancery division and these cases are not usually show-stoppers. In fact, they are completely impenetrable. Yesterday's case pitted computer firm Hewlett-Packard against a company called Expansys, and even the court reporter covering the case for specialist business news agency Bloomberg left when she discovered what the case was about - Windows and non-Windows-based personal digital assistants (aka palm pilots).
I, though, stuck with it. I didn't understand a thing for the first half an hour - there were constant references to "the nexus" but I never did discover what this mysterious object was. Gradually, however, the odd chink of light did begin to appear through the murk. Hewlett-Packard appeared to be accusing Expansys of buying its products in the Far East and shipping them back for sale at higher, European-level prices in the UK. H-P claimed its patent rights in the UK were thereby being infringed. (Note to lawyers: best not to treat my summation as definitive or quote it in future cases.)
A day had been set aside for the complexities to be dealt with in court, but Mr Justice Laddie, to his great credit, got through it in one hour and 12 minutes! If Laddie had been around in Dickens' day, Jarndyce and Jarndyce would have been over by lunchtime and Bleak House would have been a novella.
Chancery is not like a criminal court: the judge is far more interventionist, inquisitorial, in fact downright rude. Mr Mellor, appearing for Hewlett-Packard, began by saying that he was sure the judge would be familiar with the fundamentals of the case law at issue, so he would ... "Sit down", suggested Mr Justice Laddie. This was a judicial joke.
The atmosphere is very chummy. Mr Mellor, a New Labour sort of barrister in suit and tie (no wigs) and with a dull, monotonish delivery, made his statement with a smile playing on his lips. There was lots of banter. "I'm afraid I didn't have time to read all your submissions relating to anti-trust issues," said the judge. "Very sensible", said Mr Mellor. Polite laughter from the other 15 - yes, 15 - barristers, lawyers and judicial box-carriers in court.
The defence was in the hands of Mr Roughton, a more upper-crust sort of chap and clearly a favourite of Mr Justice Laddie. "It's always a pleasure to have you in court because you are such a gentleman," he told the barrister, "so I don't like to be brutal ..." But he was: he told Mr Roughton, in effect, that the point he was making about H-P consenting to the resale of its goods was nonsense.
"I accept that the boat that I am putting out doesn't go very far," said Mr Roughton. "Mr Mellor seems to think that it sank in the dock before you even untied the ropes," said the judge. The nautical metaphor was continued for a good five minutes, to appreciative grins all round. This was proving quite good fun, and not boring at all.
Though maybe Mr Justice Laddie would disagree. "His resignation wasn't a surprise to us," one barrister told me later. "We could tell he was getting bored. He's a very good fisherman, you know." Objection: non sequitur. "The cases are very repetitive," said a court reporter specialising in commercial law. Once you've heard one intellectual property case, perhaps you've heard them all.
There were frequent references to the precedent set by "Davidoff", a European judgment involving the perfume company that set the guidelines for these "parallel importing" cases. From where I was sitting - quite far back and finding it hard to hear the judge, who was slumped in his chair for much of the time - Mr Justice Laddie did not appear to have a very high opinion of "Davidoff" as a legal authority.
"This sounds to me just like a judgment of mine that they [some higher court, I assumed] shredded," he said of Mr Roughton's challenge to the dreaded D-word. "I had made a very good judgment. It just happened to be wrong. If you've found a way around Davidoff, I will personally give you a medal."
I rather admired Mr Roughton. His response to being in a seemingly leaky vessel was to fire broadsides in all directions. Suddenly, this little case about Windows and non-Windows-based personal digital assistants was taking in corporate freedom, monopolies, price fixing, economic destruction and possibly global warming. I felt we were close to the nexus.
Mr Mellor rambled a bit and Mr Justice Laddie, who has a reputation for testiness, hurried him along. "What's the point of worrying about all this?" he demanded. "You're not asking me to resolve those issues now; you're asking me to think about the 'so what?' So let's get on with the 'so what?', shall we?" The case was only 28 minutes old and Mr Laddie was already moving to the denouement. Truly, 21st-century justice; a court for the palm pilot age.
"Our only submission on nexus is, 'Yes there is'," said Mr Roughton bizarrely. "Well, at least that's succinct," said the judge. There were frequent references to evidence submitted by a Mr Dagger, a man who would surely have featured in Bleak House, probably turning up in chapter 61 ("A Discovery) or chapter 62 ("Another Discovery"). I imagine he has a scar on his left cheek and, by the sudden revelation of a curious coincidence, will provide the key to the entire case. He will certainly know where the nexus is.
Sorry, I'm daydreaming, as was the usher and a lady with a laptop (purpose not apparent) who were close to nodding off. A new stenographer took over after an hour. God, their job really is boring. Do they ever resign early?
Happily for the second stenographer, she only had to do 12 minutes. We began at 2pm and, thanks to the "so what?" style of justice patented by Mr Justice Laddie, we were through by 12 minutes past three. He said he would reserve judgment and then scurried from the court, probably to do a spot of fishing while pondering Davidoff. He is due to give his verdict today: don't be late or you'll miss it.
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