The Courts can, and increasingly it seems will, make Civil Restraint Order’s (“CRO’s”), which will fetter the action of a vexatious litigant and give welcome relief to a party on the receiving end of unmeritorious applications and claims.

The Facts

The Ministry of Justice sought a General CRO against the Claimant, a serving prisoner at HMP Chelmsford.

In previous proceedings the Claimant had brought numerous claims against the Ministry of Justice. Claims ranged from alleging breaches of Human Rights to negligence in the handling of possessions. Although the instant application arose from five new claims, the Court heard evidence that the Claimant had previously brought at least 26 other claims. Each set of proceedings were deemed to be without merit. It was said by the Defendant in evidence that the Claimant was “highly litigious, manipulative and prone to making false claims and raising spurious complaints”. The trial judge agreed. Against this background, Popplewell J considered the Defendant’s application for a CRO.

Mr Justice Popplewell considered the Court’s jurisdiction to make Civil Restraint Orders, explaining that the power derives from the CPR pursuant to rule 3.11. Mr Justice Popplewell explained that Extended Civil Restraint Orders are confined to preventing a party from issuing claims in relation to the ongoing proceedings, but a General CRO is of wider application and restrains a party from issuing any claim or application without first obtaining the permission of the Court. Explaining the meaning of persistence, Popplewell J considered the Court of Appeal decision of Bhamjee v Forsdick [2004] 1 WLR 88 where it was held “there has to be an element of persistence in the irrational refusal to take “no” for an answer before an order of this type can be made”.

Mr Justice Popplewell considered the case of Nowak v The Nursing and Midwifery Council [2013] EWHC (1932) QB. In this case Leggatt J was of the opinion “that a litigant who makes claims or applications which have absolutely no merit harms the administration of justice by wasting the limited time and resources of the court.” Mr Justice Popplewell concluded that the Claimant in this action was just such a litigant.

In deciding to make a General CRO as opposed to an Extended CRO, Popplewell J concluded that an Extended CRO would not have been suitable in the circumstances, bearing in mind the diverse range of claims and allegations previously brought in respect of a significant number of different defendants. It was not, in Mr Justice Popplewell’s view, possible to frame an Extended CRO such that it would achieve the protection of the public interest in preventing further abuse.

Commentary

This was an extreme case which highlights that the Courts are willing to make Civil Restraint Orders against people who continuously attempt to bring unmeritorious claims. Of significance in this case were the number, type and variety of claims the Claimant attempted to bring, each of which were found to have no merit.

Where a party to litigation does refuse to take ‘ no ‘ for an answer, a CRO could be a remedy even where the circumstances fail to match the extreme circumstances here, as the courts are increasingly in favour of preventing litigants from pursuing vexatious litigation, particularly when they waste court time and resources and increase costs, when they do not have the means themselves to pay.

For further information, please contact Georgina Squire or the Partner with whom you usually deal.