Controversial High Court judge Mr Justice Harman has resigned after being accused by three senior Court of Appeal judges yesterday of conduct which ''weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process''.

The appeal judges were angered by Mr Justice Harman's treatment of a farmer bankrupted by a confidence trickster, who was kept waiting for 20 months before judgment was given.

Mr Justice Harman, 67, contacted the Lord Chancellor after hearing the judges' comments and said he intended to resign from April 20. This was accepted by Lord Irvine.

A statement from the Lord Chancellor's Department said Lord Irvine was ''extremely concerned'' about the lengthy delay, had noted the comments of the appeal judges and ''shares their concerns''.

Lords Justices Peter Gibson, Brooke and Mummery ordered a retrial of farmer Rex Goose's case after hearing that Mr Justice Harman, voted worst judge by Legal Business magazine last month, had forgotten large parts of the essential facts in the case by the time he came to deliver judgment.

Lord Justice Peter Gibson said in his judgment delivered yesterday: ''Conduct like this weakens public confidence in the whole judicial process. Left unchecked it would be ultimately subversive of the rule of law. Delays on this scale cannot and will not be tolerated.''

Mr Justice Harman's fateful case began in 1994 and the judgment was delivered on April 1, 1996 - one year and eight months after the case ended.

Alan Boyle QC, who represented Mr Goose, of Spalding, Lincolnshire, said that at one stage he had considered taking life insurance on Mr Justice Harman to cover lost legal costs if he died before the ruling.

The assessment in Legal Business last month, based on the views of 100 barristers and solicitors, said he was ''dreadfully rude to people who are junior and inexperienced; discourteous and bullying''. It was acknowledged, however, that he was ''pretty good intellectually''.

Sir Jeremiah LeRoy Harman was called to the bar in 1954 and graduated to the bench along the time-honoured route of Eton, the Coldstream Guards and Lincoln's Inn.

The son of an appeal judge, he has been a judge of the High Court's Chancery Division since 1982, while out-of-hours enjoying traditional upper-class pursuits of fishing, shooting, stalking and watching birds.

One woman barrister's immediate reaction yesterday was: ''Good riddance to bad rubbish. Barristers, particularly women, have put up with his nastiness for long enough.''

He was prone to ticking off women barristers for not tucking their hair completely behind their wigs.

Married twice, he once told a woman witness who wanted to be referred to as Ms: ''I've always thought there were only three kinds of women: wives, whores and mistresses.''

In 1992, he earned the epithet ''the Kicking Judge'' after aiming his boot at the groin of a taxi driver waiting outside his London home under the mistaken impression he was a press photographer.

He first came to public attention when he disclosed total ignorance of the identity of one Paul Gascoigne, soon after his starring role in the 1990 World Cup. ''Who is Gazza?'', he asked, and when told he was a footballer, added: ''Is that rugby union or association football?''