Nigel Johnson, CRT’s legal and corporate services director will retire at the end of 2013 according to a CRT press release. This is surprising, because it was announced last year in a review of directors’ pay and roles that he would retire at the end of 2014. Mr Johnson was responsible for CRT spending around £250,000 on BW/ CRT’s failed six-year court battle with Nigel Moore over a section 8 order in Brentford. The Court of Appeal found in February 2013 that Mr Moore’s boat was moored lawfully. According to the press release, Johnson informed CRT’s Chair and former CEO this April that he wished to retire sooner than 2014. This was shortly after it became apparent that he had lost BW/ CRT a quarter of a million on a legal gamble in which it is obvious to those who saw the proceedings that he knew all along that BW did not have the powers to restrict mooring that he maintained it had.
Mr Johnson, who is 59, also presided over the rubbishing of Nick Brown’s application for Judicial Review of the Guidance for Boaters Without a Home Mooring which Sally Ash said in November 2012 “is not therefore influencing our plans”. Mr Brown was granted permission for judicial review on appeal in July 2013. Sally Ash said before this appeal that “we have no reason to doubt that this will change anything”.
However, Lord Justice Jackson said in his judgement in July 2013 that “the issue of whether the 2011 Guidance accurately sets out the powers of CRT and the restrictions on licence holders arising from Section 17 (3) (c) (ii) of the British Waterways Act 1995 merits pursuit in Judicial Review”.
Last month Mr Johnson took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release publishing CRT’s defence to the judicial review and his own 308-page witness statement even though the documents that he published belong to the court and it is for the court to decide who sees them. Several lawyers have commented that it is unheard of for an organisation to publish documents that it has submitted to a court and that to take such an extreme step smacks of desperation. Boaters have been more down to earth in their reaction to the contents of CRT’s defence and Johnson’s witness statement, with members of the Canalworld online forum calling it “the biggest load of bull-poo I’ve ever heard” and “unprecedented folly on the part of the new CEO to consent to be part of this manoeuvre”.
Mr Johnson’s press release criticised the second most senior judge in England by calling the judicial review “misconceived”. In doing so in direct contradiction of Lord Justice Jackson’s ruling, he acted in dangerous contempt of court, because he effectively placed his own evaluation of the merits of the case above that of the Lord Justice.
Mr Johnson’s job will not be replaced; Jackie Lewis, CRT’s head of legal, is to take on the new title of general counsel. The question is, did Nigel Johnson try to fall on his sword after losing the Moore case? Or was he persuaded to “retire” after publicly criticising one of the most senior judges in the land?