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Judge removed from case following comments overheard on Zoom

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A family Judge was overheard making ‘highly critical’ remarks about the mother’s honesty in a case concerning a 16-month-old boy. 

Mrs Justice Judd had been overseeing a private hearing in the family division of the High Court . This was a partly virtual hearing and the mother had reported feeling unwell. A member of Court staff took the judge’s laptop back to her office but the remote link to the virtual court remained connected. As a result, a private conversation between the judge and her clerk was overheard by those connected to the virtual courtroom. The judge was heard saying that the mother was pretending to have a cough and trying ‘every trick in the book’ to avoid answering difficult questions.

Mrs Justice Judd initially refused to step down from the case arguing that the “process of a fair trial” had not been undermined. However, three appeal court judges - Lord Justice Bean, Lady Justice King and Lady Justice Davies - overturned this decision, concluding that a “fair-minded observer” might think that Mrs Justice Judd had formed an “unfair view” of the mother.

Lady Justice King said: ‘We have considerable sympathy with the judge. We have, however, no hesitation in concluding that her comments did indeed fall on the wrong side of the line. The fact that the comments were intended to be private does not salvage the situation in circumstances where those comments were, unhappily, broadcast across the remote system and were made during the course of the appellant’s evidence.’

Lady Justice King also added that Mrs Justice Judd greatly regretted what had happened and was a 'hard-working judge'.