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BLOOMBERG: Former U.K. Judge Says Justices Often Rule Without Expertise

March 28 (Bloomberg) — Hugh Laddie, the first London High Court judge to resign in 35 years, said he often ruled on tax or insolvency cases that he wasn't trained to hear because of the way the English legal system works.
“It is neither efficient nor fair on litigants to run a system in which judges are frequently deciding cases outside their area of expertise,'' Laddie, a patent law specialist, said in an interview last week. “No system could avoid that in all circumstances, but that should be the aim. I do not believe it is the aim in the current English system.''
Laddie, 59, told law students at the University of London last month he'd have been better off using a “roulette wheel'' to decide some cases, according to the Law Gazette. He has since softened his stand. “If I said it, it was too strong,'' he said, adding that the weekly had misinterpreted him.
It's an unusual retreat for Laddie, who often courted controversy as a High Court judge. In a 2002 trademark dispute involving Arsenal Football Club Plc memorabilia, he took on the European Court of Justice, saying the court had exceeded its jurisdiction by finding facts and he wouldn't follow its decision. The Court of Appeal decided otherwise, overturning Laddie's judgment and ruling Arsenal's trademark was infringed by a vendor selling knock-off merchandise.
Having Fun
Laddie's resignation from the bench last year also bucked convention. Saying he missed the “fun'' of working with other lawyers, Laddie joined Rouse & Co. intellectual property solicitors as a consultant. With High Court judges traditionally leaving when they retire or die, Laddie's departure made national news: “`Bored' High Court Judge Resigns,'' the Telegraph newspaper trumpeted.
“I was certainly getting more miserable,'' Laddie said, happily pointing out his new office overlooking the Thames River and Canary Wharf. “I can't say I felt stimulated on those cases about landlord-tenant disputes and things I knew nothing about.''
Laddie, whose cases included one involving the makers of the BlackBerry wireless device, said he had considered resigning for three years. When pressed about what the final straw for his departure was, the soft-spoken Laddie said: “You're not going to cross-examine me.''
Laddie's passion, aside from his family and fly fishing, has always been patent law, particularly if it involves genetic engineering, which he describes as “breathtakingly beautiful science.''
Family Matters
His interest stretches back to the University of Cambridge, where he studied medicine for two years before switching majors. Laddie's father, brother and sister are lawyers, as is his son who works as an employment barrister at London-based Matrix Chambers with Cherie Booth QC, Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife.
Laddie, born in London, married his childhood sweetheart, raised three children and was called to the bar in 1969 where he specialized in patent law. He became a Chancery judge in 1995 and said he found complex commercial disputes “stimulating, like high-wire walking is stimulating.''
There was a perception in legal circles that Laddie and his co-judges were against patent holders, although Laddie disputes this. It didn't help when CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, a London-based law firm, published a 2002 study of the Patents Court that showed that in 23 judgments made in 2001, only eight favored the patentee. Of six of those judgments made by then-Justice Laddie, none favored the patentee.
“None?'' Laddie said, when told of the study. He denies there was bias or favoritism in his judgments or those of his colleagues. “There are lies, damn lies and statistics and that is an example.''
Legal Wisdom
Sir Hugh, who doesn't use the knighthood title he gained in 1995 on his business cards, prefers to be remembered as a judge who streamlined costs and court time so plaintiffs could afford to bring actions against wealthier defendants.
Laddie's last substantive case before retiring was Research in Motion UK Ltd. v Inpro Licensing Sarl. Inpro brought claims against RIM, the makers of the BlackBerry, in Britain and Germany over a European patent related to the transposition of images and Internet files. RIM, which eventually won, wanted proceedings fast-tracked so they could challenge Inpro's U.K. patent and protect RIM's BlackBerry sales in Europe. Inpro objected.
Laddie decided that if one party asked for a streamlined procedure, the court should proceed unless there was a convincing reason not to. Laddie's decision opened the door to streamlining complex English patent cases to allow factual and expert evidence to be given in writing, and limited the cross-examination of witnesses.
The RIM case was so complicated that it took longer than Laddie had envisioned. Justice Nicholas Pumfrey, who heard the case after Laddie retired, ruled that the test for streamlining should be an objective one, based on all the material, rather than the presumptive test Laddie had wanted. Clients can still get their case streamlined though if they meet the test.
Laddie, who is proud of this contribution to the legal system, said he tends to take his hits and misses in his stride.
“If you think judges only speak wisdom then there would be no need for the Court of Appeal,'' he said.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Caroline Byrne in London at [email protected].

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