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The Times: Definitely no regrets: there is life beyond the High Court

May 16, 2006
By Frances Gibb

One year after he resigned, Sir Hugh Laddie gives an insider’s view of the joys and miseries of the Bench 
THERE WAS a furore when Sir Hugh Laddie announced that he was leaving the High Court Bench because he found it boring. A “small minority” of colleagues disapproved: one said that if Laddie returned to the Bar, he could not appear in his court. Nor did the Lord Chancellor acknowledge either his first letter intimating resignation or the formal confirmation itself.

It is almost unheard of for High Court judges to leave early. What added salt to the wound in Laddie’s case was, as he puts it, “I wasn’t going off to retire and spend time fly fishing”. He was going back into legal practice. Now, nearly a year on, is there life after the Bench? He admits to no regrets. “When I first wrote the letter, for a few seconds I had this awful feeling when I thought — have I done something stupid? But I think it was a great move.” 
Like sacked Lord Chancellors, former High Court judges don’t have a huge range of work possibilities. What Laddie did was to go to a leading niche firm, Willoughby & Partners (the UK legal arm of Rouse & Co International, the intellectual property solicitors), based at Canary Wharf, where he is a consultant and mediator. It means that he sees clients and can lecture: he reels off where he has been — just back from Hong Kong and India, with imminent trips to China, Trieste, Barcelona, Australia and Singapore. “I lectured a lot as a judge: my wife would say that when I came back after lecturing my batteries were recharged. But it became more and more difficult to fit in.”

This week Laddie, 60, announces a fresh leaf to his portfolio. In September he takes up the first Chair in Intellectual Property at University College London: a part-time post from where he will spearhead the development of IP law courses across the college. The idea, he says, is to build on its strengths in biomedicine, science and engineering. “You can’t do bioscience commercially without being involved in patents, so they thought it would be great for cross-fertilisation to have IP expertise and teaching.”

Professor Michael Bridge, Dean of UCL Faculty of Laws, says Laddie’s appointment is a “tremendous coup”. “Apart from his eminence in intellectual property law, he has strong links with practice and industry and the energy and vision to drive UCL forward in this hugely important competitive area”. But for Laddie, too, it gives him a chance to “make a different sort of contribution” — to the law itself; one lost when he gave up the Bench. “One of the things that was great about being a judge was that you could say you thought the law wrong on this or that.” As an academic he will have a similar input.

Laddie was a top patents silk when the “tap on the shoulder” came in April 1995. “I was at the Bar for 25 years. I had a truly stupendous time. I still think, if you’re lucky and get a good practice, it’s a great job.” But with the heavy and tiring workload — “it was the only thing my wife and I would argue about” — he had no doubt about becoming a High Court judge. “There was only one direction — down. You can’t stay at the top for ever.”

For the first five years, he enjoyed it. But aspects jarred. “One thing is that you are really isolated. You can go all day without speaking to another judge.” So he set up a common room where judges could meet weekly for teas. Laddie, who was senior judge of the Patents Court, also believed strongly that the courts should serve litigants, not the profession. “That meant I was determined to try to cut costs to a point where I used to irritate people.

“Everyone has egos — it’s a matter of how difficult you find it to control.” Laddie did not endear himself to counsel when, at the start of a case, having read the papers, he would make clear his preliminary views. “Obviously I had provisional thoughts — it would be amazing if I didn’t. Some would say: he’s made up his mind. I hadn’t, of course.”

Laddie also objected to sitting on Chancery cases beyond his expertise. Had he taken a case outside his field at the Bar, he’d have left himself open to a negligence action, he says. But the moment he was a judge he was expected to do just that. “It was challenging — like high-wire walking — but I didn’t think it fair for clients to be learning at their expense.” Most worrying were the cases involving unrepresented litigants, with applications “ in an area of law that I knew nothing about”.

He remains outspoken in his criticisms. Litigation is reserved for the “rich, mad or destitute”, he says. “The slowness of it; the expense of it.” The Woolf reforms had not had an impact on costs: he believes one answer is less oral advocacy with time limits on counsel’s speeches. He also favours keeping the courts running in the long vacation.

There were unfounded fears that his departure would prompt an exodus or that people would simply go for the job for the knighthood. “If that’s what they thought, there must be an awful lot of unhappy judges. The other answer is: scrap the knighthood. They don’t have them in Australia and have perfectly good judges. Or give it to all judges. Many do just as good a job as a High Court judge. One or two others may leave before their time is up ‘because they now see there’s a door’. But most like the job and will stay.”

Laddie acknowledges the “great privilege” he had working with “some spectacular people”, although the company, he adds, “was not exactly a cross-section of the population” and conversation inevitably limited to cases. It also has “immense status”. But if people want to leave, they should be able to. “We abolished slavery a long time ago. If you don’t like it, get out. Keep the job for people who really want to do it.”,,200-2178702,00.html Sir Hugh Laddie was the Judge for the Donovan -v- Shell U.K. Limited “Shell Smart” trial at the Royal Courts of Justice. At the time, he was still a High Court Judge known as Mr Justice Laddie. He  resigned from being a Judge in controversial circumstances. By coincidence or otherwise, this was subsequent to a letter of complaint sent by Alfred Donovan to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer. In a further coincidence, Sir Hugh now works for a consultancy which has Shell as a client: its a small world.

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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