Happy Birthday Sir Jeremiah Harman! Some important insolvency cases remembered
Today marks Sir Jeremiah Harman's 79th Birthday. Happy Birthday Sir Jeremiah! The learned judge is perhaps best known generally for his untimely departure from the bench on Friday 13th of February 1998. Insolvency law scholars remember him however for a myriad of important judgments in the field on both the corporate and personal side. His top ten insolvency judgments must be headed by that in Re Specialised Mouldings Ltd (unreported), leading to the famous Specialised Mouldings letters, which would eventually lead to the Insolvency Acts of 1994 (one and two). Why this case has never been reported is rather strange. Perhaps the Bankruptcy and Personal Insolvency Reports (BPIR - Jordans) editors (Professor David Milman, Mr. Paul French, Mr Jonathan Middleton, Mr John Briggs and Mr Stephen Davies QC) can redress this strange anomaly for the benefit of students if nothing else. Other key judgments that stand out include:
- Official Receiver v Hannan  B.C.C. 644;  2 B.C.L.C. 473.
- Barclays Bank plc & Ors v British & Commonwealth Holdings plc  B.C.C. 19.
- Re Leisure Study Group Ltd  2 B.C.L.C. 65.
- Exchange Travel Agency Ltd v Triton Property Trust Plc  B.C.C. 341;  B.C.L.C. 396.
- Re Sevenoaks Stationers (Retail) Ltd  Ch. 164;  3 W.L.R. 1165;  3 All E.R. 578;  B.C.C. 765;  B.C.L.C. 325; (1990) 134 S.J. 1367.
- Re Cloverbay Ltd (No.2)  B.C.C. 229;  B.C.L.C. 449.
- Re Downs Wine Bar  B.C.L.C. 839.
- Re Charnley Davies Business Services (1987) 3 B.C.C. 408; 1988 P.C.C. 1.
- Cornhill Insurance Plc v Improvement Services Ltd  1 W.L.R. 114; (1986) 2 B.C.C. 98942.
- Re Potters Oils Ltd (1985) 1 B.C.C. 99384;  P.C.C. 148.
It was a personal insolvency case that brought about Mr Justice Harman's premature resignation from the High Court bench. He was not sacked or impeached. His resignation followed adverse comment by three Court of Appeal judges (Lord Justices Gibson, Brooke and Mummery - Goose v Wilson Sandford & Co (No.1)(1998) 95(12) L.S.G. 27; (1998) 142 S.J.L.B. 92; Times, February 19, 1998) regarding Mr Justice Harman's treatment of a case concerning a bankrupt farmer named Mr. Rex Goose. Mr Goose was kept waiting for 20 months before judgment was given in his case. Lord Justice Gibson said in his judgment:
"The court is driven to take this exceptional course on the ground that a substantial miscarriage of justice would be occasioned to Mr Goose by allowing the judge's decision to stand. Litigation causes quite enough stress, as it is, for people to have to endure while a trial is going on. Compelling them to await judgement for an indefinitely extended period after the trial is over will only serve to prolong their anxiety, and may well increase it. Conduct like this weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process. Left unchecked it would be ultimately subversive of the rule of law.Delays on this scale cannot and will not be tolerated. A situation like this must never occur again."
Delay in bankruptcy cases can still be a problem. Mr Justice Harman was no stranger to controversy. The BBC reported that: "Mr Justice Harman's resignation brings to an end a colourful career during which the ex-Guards officer has often been accused by junior members of the legal profession of being an intimidating bully. He once caused uproar by kicking a taxi-driver sent to pick him up after mistaking him for a journalist. The twice-married Harman was once reported to have "joked" in court: "I've always thought there were only three kinds of women: wives, whores and mistresses". The out-of-touch judge once admitted he did not know who Paul Gascoigne, the England and Rangers' footballer, was and was similarly flummoxed by the names Oasis and Bruce Springsteen...Legal Business magazine voted him Britain's worst judge for the third time. The magazine acknowledged his great intellect but described him as "dreadfully rude, discourteous, bullying, very unpredictable and nasty."
Some people have more fond memories of Sir Jeremiah, including The Guardian's Culture Correspondent, Mr Stephen Ross, ("The Death of the Cultural Elite") who wrote:
"I've always thought Sir Jeremiah Harman to be a bit of a hero. He is the judge, sadly now retired, who in 1990 had to have a reference to "Gazza" explained to him. "Anything to do with Rossini's opera La Gazza Ladra?" Sir Jeremiah wondered aloud to a bemused court. They found it hard to believe the judge had never heard of a soccer star who was then a household name thanks to his tears in Italia 90. "No, nothing to do with Rossini, milord," a barrister explained helpfully. "He is a footballer." "Rugby or Association?" barked back Sir Jeremiah."
Similarly a barrister also once observed upon Sir Jeremiah's resignation: "I deplore this tendency towards uniformity. There must be room for mavericks, even on the bench. If they stick to being rude and irascible but efficient at the same time, it's all right."
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