Regina v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No 2): HL 15 Jan 1999

A petition was brought to request that a judgment of the House be set aside because the wife of one their lordships, Lord Hoffmann, was as an unpaid director of a subsidiary of Amnesty International which had in turn been involved in a campaign against the applicant, and as a party.
Held: The House is unfettered by statute in its freedom to correct an injustice it had itself created. No financial interest was involved. Here there was a distinction between the two arms of the Amnesty International organisation, but that was not sufficient. Lord Hoffmann was an officer of the charitable arm, and that was sufficient to make him a party to the case. The maxim ‘nemo judex in sua causa’ was to be applied. The fact that a person has the necessary training and qualifications to resist any tendency towards bias is not relevant when considering whether there was an appearance of bias. The decision was set aside.
Lord Browne-Wilkinson said: ‘My Lords, in my judgment, although the cases have all dealt with automatic disqualification on the grounds of pecuniary interest, there is no good reason in principle for so limiting automatic disqualification. The rationale of the whole rule is that a man cannot be a judge in his own cause. In civil litigation the matters in issue will normally have an economic impact; therefore a judge is automatically disqualified if he stands to make a financial gain as a consequence of his own decision of the case. But if, as in the present case, the matter at issue does not relate to money or economic advantage but is concerned with the promotion of the cause, the rationale disqualifying a judge applies just as much if the judge’s decision will lead to the promotion of a cause in which the judge is involved together with one of the parties.’ and
‘It is important not to overstate what is being decided. It was suggested in argument that a decision setting aside the order of 25 November 1998 would lead to a position where judges would be unable to sit on cases involving charities in whose work they are involved. It is suggested that, because of such involvement, a judge would be disqualified. That is not correct. The facts of this present case are exceptional. The critical elements are (1) that A.I. was a party to the appeal; (2) that A.I. was joined in order to argue for a particular result; (3) the judge was a director of a charity closely allied to A.I. and sharing, in this respect, A.I.’s objects. Only in cases where a judge is taking an active role as trustee or director of a charity which is closely allied to and acting with a party to the litigation should a judge normally be concerned either to recuse himself or disclose the position to the parties. However, there may well be other exceptional cases in which the judge would be well advised to disclose a possible interest.’
Lord Hutton said: ‘there could be cases where the interest of the judge in the subject matter of the proceedings arising from his strong commitment to some cause or belief or his association with a person or body involved in the proceedings could shake public confidence in the administration of justice as much as a shareholding (which might be small) in a public company involved in the litigation.’

Lord Browne-Wilkinson, Lord Goff of Chieveley Lord Nolan, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Hutton
Times 18-Jan-1999, Gazette 10-Feb-1999, [1999] UKHL 1, [2000] 1 AC 119, [1999] 1 All ER 577, [1999] 2 WLR 272, 6 BHRC 1, [1999] NLJR 88, [1999] UKHL 52
Bailii, Bailii
England and Wales
CitedMcGovern v Attorney-General ChD 1982
Amnesty International established a trust with a view to obtaining charitable status for some of its activities.
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Natural Justice, Litigation Practice

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.158984