Why I had to challenge King's College tribunal

Daniel Lightman QC asked that the anti-Zionist tweeter recuse himself from the judging panel

December 21, 2017 16:02

On Monday, the First-Tier Tribunal was due to hear an appeal by Julian Hunt against the Information Commissioner.

The Commissioner had upheld the refusal of King’s College London to disclose information Mr Hunt had requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Mr Hunt had asked KCL what disciplinary measures it had taken against those KCL students who had severely disrupted, and caused the abandonment of, a meeting of the KCL Israel Society at which the guest speaker was Avi Ayalon, the former head of Shin Bet.

In particular, he asked whether any members of the KCL Action Palestine society had been disciplined.

It was surprising to discover that Narendra Makanji, one of the two lay members of the tribunal due to hear the appeal, is an active tweeter whose posts show a deep hostility to Israel.

The Guide to Judicial Conduct states: “A judge should strive to ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants, in the impartiality of the judge and the judiciary.”

It goes on to state that judicial office-holders who blog must avoid expressing opinions which “could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or the judiciary in general” and should remove “forthwith” any existing posts which conflict with this guidance.

Since Mr Hunt’s appeal concerns the provision of information about attacks on students who support Israel and one of the parties to the appeal is UK Lawyers for Israel, I objected to Mr Makanji hearing it, pointing out that a fair-minded observer would conclude that there was a real possibility that a judge who is so hostile to Israel as to support boycotting it would be biased.

Shortly after the tribunal retired to consider what to do, its two other members returned to court to announce that Mr Makanji had recused himself.

Judge Brian Kennedy QC apologised to the parties for the inconvenience of having to arrange a new hearing. Mr Makanji, however, did not return to court or apologise to the parties. Nor (at the time of writing) has he removed the offending tweets.

The irony is that it is only because Mr Makanji has been so public in communicating his animus towards Israel that his unsuitability for hearing Mr Hunt’s appeal became apparent.

In 1955, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, wrote: “So long as a Judge keeps silent his reputation for wisdom and impartiality remains unassailable, but every utterance which he makes in public, except in the course of the actual performance of his judicial duties, must necessarily bring him within the focus of criticism”.

Had Mr Makanji complied with the (now superseded) Kilmuir Guidelines, there would have been no basis for objecting to his hearing Mr Hunt’s appeal.


Daniel Lightman QC is representing Julian Hunt pro bono in his appeal

December 21, 2017 16:02

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