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Judge denies being racist after making 'flying carpet' jokes about Arab Sheikh


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Judge denies being racist after making 'flying carpet' jokes about Arab Sheikh

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By COLIN FERNANDEZ - More by this author ยป Last updated at 17:36pm on 15th November 2007 commentIconSm.gif Comments (8)

A High Court judge has been condemned for cracking "racially offensive" jokes about an Arab Sheikh in a divorce case.

Mr Justice Peter Singer, 63, said in a series of badly-received gaffes the Sheikh could "depart on his flying carpet" to escape paying costs and his evidence was "a bit gelatinous...a bit like Turkish Delight".

He also said the Sheikh should attend court "so that every grain of sand is sifted" and added, "at this relatively fast-free time of year" - an apparent reference to the Islamic custom of fasting during Ramadan.

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petersingerUPPA_468x556.jpgHigh Court judge Mr Justice Peter Singer has been moved off a case because an Arab Sheikh complained about his 'racist' comments

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Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdullah Rashid Alfawaz, from Saudi Arabia, did not see the funny side and asked for a new judge to hear the case.

The Court of Appeal has now agreed Mr Justice Singer should stand aside.

Lord Justice Ward, who called the case a "singularly unsatisfactory, unfortunate and embarrassing matter", said that while Mr Justice Singer had not meant to be racist, the remarks would be seen as mocking of the Sheikh's ethnic origins and Muslim faith.

Lord Justice Ward said: "No little part of my embarrassment comes from my belief that the injection of a little humour lightens the load of high emotion that so often attends litigation and I am the very last judge to criticise laughter in court.

"I fully appreciate the conventional view that jokes are a bad thing.

"Of course they are when they are bad jokes - and I am sure I have myself often erred and committed that heinous judicial sin.

"Mr Justice Singer certainly erred in this case. These, I regret to say, were not just bad jokes: they were thoroughly bad jokes.

"Moreover, and importantly, they will inevitably be perceived to be racially offensive jokes."

However, Lord Justice Ward added: "For my part I am totally convinced that they were not meant to be racist and I unreservedly acquit the judge of any suggestion that they were so intended.

"Unfortunately, every one of the four remarks can be seen to be not simply colourful language as the judge sought to excuse them but .... to be mocking and disparaging of the third respondent (the sheikh) for his status as a Sheikh and/or his Saudi nationality and/or his ethnic origins and/or his Muslim faith."

Lord Justice Ward added: "Making every allowance for the jocularity of the judge's comments, one cannot in this day and age and in these troubled times allow remarks like that to go unchallenged.

"They were not only regrettable, and I unreservedly express my regret to the Sheikh that they were made: they were also quite unacceptable. They were likely to cause offence and result in a perception of unfairness.

"Mr Justice Singer may talk too much; yet he is a good judge.

"Unfortunately for him and for all of us, on this occasion he crossed the line between the tolerable and the impermissible."

The Sheikh had a financial interest in the divorce case of a British woman, Wendy Ann El Farargy, 59, and her Egyptian husband 67-year-old Nael Mahmoud El Farargy who married in 1974 and founded a hotel firm, Wena Hotels.

The couple lived in a ยฃ1.7million home Cobham, Surrey which the Sheikh claims to own through a British Virgin Island company.

"Husband and wife still occupy the house in what must be the most trying circumstances," said Lord Justice Ward.

The contentious remarks were made in preliminary hearings in the case, which is still to be heard, in September last year.

Lord Justice Ward and Lords Justices Mummery and Wilson allowed the sheikh's appeal that Mr Justice Singer should stand down.

Mr Justice Singer issued a statement saying: "A judgment handed down in the Court of Appeal today concluded that remarks made by me in the case of El Farargy v El Fararghy and others were regrettable, unacceptable and might be perceived as racist jokes.

"I wish publicly to apologise to Sheikh Khalid Ben Abdullah Rashid Alfawaz for these remarks, which were not intended to be racially disparaging.

"My comments were poorly chosen. They were not intended to be racist, nor have I ever intended any disrespect or disregard for the tenets of Islam, or for the Sheikh's Saudi nationality and Arab ethnicity.

"My judicial work and public speeches clearly demonstrate that I am in no sense racist."

Mr Justice Singer was appointed as a High Court Judge in the Family Division in 1993, and he has mainly been involved in hearing disputes involving children and their welfare, and family cases with an international dimension.

He had 25 years practice at the Bar, virtually all in family law and he is a past chairman of the Family Law Bar Association.

In 2003 he was one of the UK judges who took part in the first Anglo-Pakistan Judicial Conference on Family Law issues, and he has continued in this role with visits to Pakistan.

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