Appellate Court’s Caution in Reassessing Facts
The Court of Appeal was invited to reverse the decision of the judge at first instance to accept the evidence of the petitioner (no evidence having been called by the respondent).
Held: The court considered the caution needed when overturning a decision at first instance as to the facts.
Lord Greene MR said: ‘It can, of course, only be in the rarest of occasions, and in circumstances where the appellate court is convinced by the plainest of considerations, that it would be justified in finding that the trial judge had formed a wrong opinion.’
and ‘A judge who observes the demeanour of the witnesses while they are being examined by counsel has from his detached position a much more favourable opportunity of forming a just appreciation than a judge who himself conducts the examination. If he takes the latter course he, so to speak, descends into the arena and is liable to have his vision clouded by the dust of the conflict. Unconsciously he deprives himself of the advantage of calm and dispassionate observation. It is further to be remarked, as everyone who has had experience of these matters knows, that the demeanour of a witness is apt to be very different when he is being questioned by the judge to what it is when he is being questioned by counsel, particularly when the judge’s examination is, as it was in the present case, prolonged and covers practically the whole of the crucial matters which are in issue.’
Lord Greene MR, MacKinnon and Du Parcq LJJ
 P 15,  1 All ER 183, 61 TLR 176
England and Wales
Approved – Thomson v Kvaerner Govan Limited HL 31-Jul-2003
The defendant appealed reversal on appeal of the award of damages aganst them. The pursuer had been working within the hull of a ship, and the plank on which he was standing had snapped, causing him to fall. The plank should have been of sufficient . .
Cited – Tutt and Others vTutt CA 14-Oct-1997
The parties disputed a boundary between their properties. It followed a prolonged and expensive dispute over what was a small piece of land.
Held: Acknowledging the caution required before overturning a judge’s decision on the facts, there . .
Cited – Cairnstores Ltd Generics (UK) Ltd and Another v Aktiebolaget Hassle CA 22-Oct-2002
Two patents had been invaildated for obviousness. They related to coatings on medicinal pills. The patent holder said the judge’s interruptions indicated bias.
Held: The sumissions were unjustified. The interventions were by no means . .
Cited – Akerhielm v De Mare PC 1959
A company prospectus contained the following: ‘About a third of the capital has already been subscribed in Denmark.’ Though the directors believed this to be true, it was not true at the time the prospectus was issued.
Held: The statement was . .
Cited – London Borough of Southwark v Kofi-Adu CA 23-Mar-2006
The authority complained that during the course of the trial, the judge had repeatedly intervened during oral evidence.
Held: A judge must be careful not to repeatedly intervene during oral evidence as opposed to counsel making submissions. . .
Cited – Jones v National Coal Board CA 17-Apr-1957
The judicial function of dealing with cases justly in an adversarial system requires a first instance judge ‘to hear and determine the issues raised by the parties, not to conduct an investigation or examination on behalf of society at large.’ That . .
Cited – Re S (Children, W and T) CA 14-May-2014
The parents sought leave to appeal against a care order made on a finding of sexual abuse of one of the children, saying that the court had failed to allow for the inherent improbability of the facts alleged. . .
Approved – Watt (or Thomas) v Thomas HL 1947
When Scots Appellate Court may set decision aside
The House considered when it was appropriate for an appellate court in Scotland to set aside the judgment at first instance.
Lord Thankerton said: ‘(1) Where a question of fact has been tried by a judge without a jury, and there is no question . .
Cited – McGraddie v McGraddie and Another (Scotland) SC 31-Jul-2013
The parties were father and son, living at first in the US. On the son’s wife becoming seriously ill, the son returned to Scotland. The father advanced a substantal sum for the purchase of a property to live in, but the son put the properties in his . .
Cited – DB v Chief Constable of Police Service of Northern Ireland SC 1-Feb-2017
The appellant said that the police Service of Northern Ireland had failed properly to police the ‘flags protest’ in 2012 and 2013. The issue was not as to the care and effort taken, but an alleged misunderstanding of their powers.
Held: Treacy . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Litigation Practice, Natural Justice
Updated: 31 October 2021; Ref: scu.186351