IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICECO/3027/99
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Royal Courts of Justice
Monday, 29th November 1999
B e f o r e:
LORD JUSTICE ROSE
MRS JUSTICE SMITH
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HER MAJESTY'S ATTORNEY GENERAL
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(Computer-aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of
Smith Bernal Reporting Limited
180 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2HD
Telephone No: 0171-421 4040/0171-404 1400
Fax No: 0171-831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
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MS A FOSTER (instructed by The Treasury Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
The Respondent was not present and was not represented.
J U D G M E N T
Monday, 29th November 1999
1. MRS JUSTICE SMITH:There is before the court an application on behalf of Her Majesty’s Attorney General for an order under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 as amended, whereby the respondent, Ellen Coupe, be declared a vexatious litigant and be prevented from bringing or continuing any civil proceedings without the leave of the court.
2. The history of this matter, as set out in the affidavits of Mr Lutterodt on behalf of the Treasury Solicitor, begins in October 1997 when Mrs Coupe issued a summons in the Blackburn County Court claiming damages for personal injuries against Railtrack PLC. Railtrack instructed a firm of solicitors known as Kershaw Abbott, of which Mrs Anne Kershaw is a partner, and it was she who took charge of the case for the defendant. Pleadings were filed and automatic directions took effect.
3. In January 1998, Mrs Coupe wrote requesting a transfer to Accrington County Court, and then the following month she requested a transfer to the Chorley County Court. In April 1998, the district judge gave directions and the case was transferred to Preston County Court for hearing. We have not seen the pleadings in this action and do not know the precise nature of the claim. However, it appears that Mrs Coupe’s conduct of the action was such that in June 1998 Railtrack, acting through Kershaw Abbott, issued a summons for an injunction against Mrs Coupe seeking to prevent her from harassing and abusing either the solicitors in the firm of Kershaw Abbott or the employees of Railtrack PLC.
4. It appears that on 12th June they obtained an injunction. Immediately thereafter, Mrs Coupe commenced an action against the district judge (i.e. District Judge Pickup) who had granted that injunction. The claim alleged that the district judge had made defamatory statements against her and her family over a period of four years; he had lied and he had committed perjury.
5. In due course, the action against District Judge Pickup and the proceedings for an injunction were transferred to the Preston County Court, where all three matters came before District Judge Ashton on 14th August. He held a hearing at which he saw Mrs Coupe, and read a number of letters (which are not before us) from Mrs Coupe -- and possibly also from her son, Eric -- to the court and to the defendants, Railtrack, and their solicitors. District Judge Ashton formed the view that Mrs Coupe may be under a disability because she was suffering from a mental disorder, and he made an order staying all the proceedings in which she was then involved until such time as she either filed a report from a psychiatrist, who had seen the letters she had written to the court, certifying that she was not under a disability, or alternatively until she presented an application to act through a litigation friend.
6. The order of District Judge Ashton was not appealed, but immediately after that order had been made, Mrs Coupe began an action against him claiming that her civil rights had been breached and that he was guilty of slanderous and defamatory statements against her family. She wished to join several members of the court staff as defendants, alleging fraud and corruption by them.
7. On 28th September 1998, the action against District Judge Ashton was struck out by District Judge Duerdon at the Bury County Court, and in November 1998, the appeal against District Judge Duerdon’s order was dismissed by HHJ MacMillan. Soon after District Judge Duerdon struck out the action, he himself was sued by Mrs Coupe, alleging that he had perverted the course of justice and accepted bribes. That case was struck out in January 1999. Following the dismissal of the appeal by HHJ MacMillan, he too was sued by Mrs Coupe in the Bury County Court and similar scandalous allegations were made.
8. During autumn 1998, Mrs Coupe had also begun an action against Mrs Anne Kershaw, the solicitor at Kershaw Abbott, and an action against District Judge Smith to which she sought to add “all the district judges” and Mrs C Sharples, a court official. The plaints made allegations, unparticularised in form, of slander, defamatory statements, loss of civil rights, perjury and such like. In due course, both of those actions were struck out and appeals from the decision to strike out have been dismissed.
9. It is not necessary to recount in detail the dates of the other actions begun by Mrs Coupe during the ensuing months. Suffice it to say that by April 1999, thirteen actions had been begun in various County Courts against a number of district judges, circuit judges, one barrister and many court officials. All the claims made similar complaints of defamation, loss of civil rights, perjury and bias. In due course, in the later actions, allegations of bribery and theft were added. All of these actions arose from the judicial decisions of the district judges or circuit judges concerned, and in the case of the court officials, they arose from the alleged handling of Mrs Coupe’s many letters and applications.
10. A common thread running through the various actions in the several County Courts is that Mrs Coupe would frequently write long and incoherent letters to the court staff, which were sometimes merely abusive but more usually included a demand for a hearing of some type of application, the nature of which was not clear from the letter. We have seen many letters from court officials who have had to respond to and deal with such correspondence. In addition to the thirteen actions against court officials and judges, which have all stemmed from her grievance over the Railtrack litigation, Mrs Coupe has also commenced three other actions which appear to have arisen out of a completely separate matter.
11. On 30th November, she commenced an action against a doctor who appears to have examined her for the purposes of a submission to the Benefits Agency. A second defendant, her general practitioner, was also sued. The allegation against both was that they had given false medical evidence which had been referred to the Benefits Agency. That action was, in due course, struck out.
12. Two further actions were begun by Mrs Coupe arising out of, or apparently connected with, that grievance. In one she sued a Chairman of The Independent Tribunal Service, and in another she sued an employee of the Department of Social Security. In each case, she alleged perversion of the course of justice. We have seen these claims too, and it is clear from the language of the summonses -- which was incoherent in general -- that they contained insulting and unparticularised allegations of misconduct against the defendants. These two actions have also been struck out.
13. In June 1999, by which time Mrs Coupe had issued sixteen actions, excluding the initial action against Railtrack PLC, the Attorney General commenced these proceedings for an order under section 42. Since that time, Mrs Coupe has not commenced any fresh actions, although she has continued existing actions, in particular by appealing two decisions to strike out her claims. One such appeal was heard by Latham J in July 1999, when he dismissed the appeal; another such appeal remains to be heard at the present time.
14. Since June 1999, Mrs Coupe has continued to write offensive and abusive letters to court staff, including -- since the commencement of these proceedings -- the staff at the Royal Courts of Justice and the Treasury Solicitors handling the case on behalf of the Attorney General. These letters contain very serious and wholly unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, deceit, favouritism and bribery. More recently, additional allegations of serious sexual misconduct have been made. As an example of such, we have seen a letter written to the courts’ administration at the Royal Courts of Justice in which it is alleged that the Treasury Solicitor’s Department has “bribed others to fix cases for paedophiles employed in the public service”, and it is said that “they work to protect child abusers and paedophiles from exposure in court”.
15. Mrs Coupe’s most recent letters appear to seek an adjournment of this hearing. An allegation is made that the Treasury Solicitor’s representative has arranged for her to be injured in a road traffic accident, the intention having been to kill her. However, she claims to have survived the accident but to be in hospital. She has not attended today at the hearing of this application, nor has she supplied any medical evidence of her unfitness to attend. In the light of correspondence emanating from her since the date of the alleged road traffic accident, the court resolved to continue with the hearing in her absence.
16. Section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 provides as follows:
“(1) If, on an application made by the Attorney General under this section, the High Court is satisfied that any person has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground -
(a) instituted vexatious civil proceedings, whether in the High Court or any inferior court, and whether against the same person or against different persons; or
(b) made vexatious applications in any civil proceedings, whether in the High Court or any inferior court, and whether instituted by him or another; or
(c) [which is not relevant for the present purposes] ...
the court may, after hearing that person or giving him an opportunity of being heard, make a civil proceedings order, a criminal proceedings order or an all proceedings order.”
17. On behalf of the Attorney General, Ms Foster has submitted that the material exhibited in support of the application is clear evidence that the nature of the proceedings instituted by Mrs Coupe, and applications made by her, is vexatious and that the claims and applications are made without reasonable grounds. Ms Foster submits that much of the material is scandalous, offensive and insulting, and is in almost every case accompanied by a significant amount of correspondence of a similar character.
18. She submits that it is apparent that Mrs Coupe is not discouraged from litigating by her actions being struck out. She is undeterred by orders for costs made against her. We should draw the conclusion that Mrs Coupe’s conduct is both habitual and persistent. Ms Foster also submits that Mrs Coupe’s activities are an unwarranted burden on the staff and resources of the court system, and that the material presented in support of the application demonstrates the need for protection, in particular of the court staff and the judiciary, from abuse of the court process.
19. In her skeleton argument, Ms Foster has referred us to the case of In Re Vernazza  1 WLR 622, and has taken us in considerable detail through the material put forward by the Attorney General. We have considered that material with care, but I have not thought it necessary to set it out in this judgment in any greater detail.
20. The respondent, Mrs Coupe, submitted a written response on receipt of the papers in the present proceedings. In a manner similar to the way in which she has frequently responded to applications to strike out actions in the County Court, her response is a riposte in similar form to the application against her. So here, where the Attorney General applies for an order preventing her from taking any further step in civil proceedings or from instituting any fresh civil proceedings, she, in riposte, seeks an order against the Attorney General, preventing him from such action.
21. The grounds of her riposte, or cross-application, are not entirely clear but doing the best I can, I summarise them in the following way. She complains that the Attorney General is preventing her County Court cases from being brought to court. She complains that the County Courts will not allow her cases to be listed for hearing, and that the courts have stolen money from her (which I understand to be money which she has submitted as a court fee when seeking to arrange a hearing). She alleges that the courts’ officers have demanded money with menaces and grievous bodily harm. She alleges that the County Courts in the North of England have moved her cases from one court to another without notice to her. She alleges that the public servants who have handled the case on behalf of the Treasury Solicitor have directly discriminated against her civil rights, in particular her right to go to court. She argues that District Judge Ashton, who is the district judge who directed that she must produce psychiatric evidence of her capacity to act alone, is himself a patient and in need of a litigation friend if he is to be fit to judge. She alleges that all the courts are speaking lies and slanders. Finally, she says that Her Majesty’s Attorney General and other public servants have purposely used delaying tactics to prevent her from obtaining justice in her railway accident case, which is her case against Railtrack PLC. In my judgement these submissions are plainly vexatious.
22. In my view, it is plain that Mrs Coupe has habitually and persistently instituted vexatious civil proceedings without any reasonable ground. No less than sixteen actions were commenced between June 1998 and April 1999. As I have indicated, thirteen of them were against judges and court staff, arising as a ripple effect from District Judge Ashton’s order of August 1998, which was never appealed. All of those were plainly vexatious, in my judgment, and have been properly struck out or stayed. The other three actions arising from Mrs Coupe’s dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Benefits Agency are equally clearly vexatious.
23. Concurrently with the bringing of those actions themselves, Mrs Coupe has written a very large number of deeply offensive and defamatory letters to court staff in many different court centres in the North of England. Dealing with such correspondence places an intolerable burden on staff, and involves the use of resources which should be applied to the cases of genuine litigants.
24. I accept, of course, that the imposition of an order under section 42 is a serious infringement of a citizen’s right of access to the courts; nonetheless, in a clear case such as this, the order must be made in the public interest. I have no hesitation in granting the Attorney General the order he seeks.
25. LORD JUSTICE ROSE: I agree. Accordingly, we make a civil proceedings order against Ellen Coupe under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981.
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