The Supreme Court recently quashed three High Court judgments relating to a dispute between Good Concrete and CRH plc (CRH) on the grounds that there was objective bias arising out of the trial judge’s ownership of shares in CRH.
Goode Concrete claimed that the trial judge should have been automatically disqualified from hearing the case because of his pecuniary interest in CRH and any exception to this could not apply because of the extent of the shareholding.
Notably, the trial judge had disclosed in open court that he had a “vague feeling that a very small number of CRH shares feature somewhere in my pension fund” when the case first came before him.
CRH therefore argued thatGoode Concrete was at all times aware of the trial judge’s shareholding in CRH and chose not to object, thereby waiving its rights to complain.
Goode Concrete submitted that given the nature of the declaration, and the fact that it would not be unusual for a person to hold a very small number of shares of a public company in a pension fund, it had no difficulty with the trial judge hearing the matter. Goode Concrete submitted that it became apparent later that the full extent of the financial interests held by the trial judge had not been revealed as an additional purchase of shares in CRH had been made by the trial judge after he took up the case.
The Appeal was issued some two years after the High Court judgments were handed down, far exceeding the required timeframe for appealing.
In allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court stated that it is the responsibility of the judge to make inquiries into any shareholding relating to a case before him and inform the parties so that the issue of disqualifying himself can be considered. If a judge holds shares (as opposed to shares held in a pension plan), then in general he or she should disqualify themselves from hearing the action.
The Supreme Court quashed the three judgments under appeal and remitted them to the High Court to be re-heard by another judge. The Court added that the granting of the appeal was not a reflection on the integrity of the trial judge.