Neutral Citation Number:  EWHC Admin 489
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE NO: CO/227/01
QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION
Royal Courts of Justice
Wednesday, 20th June 2001
B e f o r e:
LORD JUSTICE LATHAM
MR JUSTICE FORBES
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HM ATTORNEY GENERAL
RALSTON PETER EDWARDS
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Computer-Aided Transcript of the stenograph notes of
Smith Bernal Reporting Limited,
180 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2HG
Telephone No: 020 7421 4040 Fax No: 020 7404 1424
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
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MR ROBERT JAY QC (instructed by Treasury Solicitor) appeared on behalf of the applicant
MR EDWARDS appeared in person on behalf of the Defendant
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J U D G M E N T
(As approved by the Court)
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1. LORD JUSTICE LATHAM: This is an application by Her Majesty’s Attorney General for a Civil Proceedings Vexatious Litigant Order under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981. The provisions of the section are 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 ... the court may, after hearing that person or giving him an opportunity of being heard, make a civil proceedings order.”
2. The effect of such an order is that the person against whom it is made is not permitted to bring any civil proceedings in the courts without the permission of a High Court judge, nor he is or she allowed to continue any proceedings which have already been commenced without permission from a High Court judge. Accordingly, the order is one which significantly restricts the rights of a citizen of access to the courts, and can only properly be made in circumstances which make it appear to the court that it is necessary in order to achieve the purpose of the section and in circumstances where the provisions of the section have been fully met. The purpose of the section is to protect the public from being harassed by actions or applications which have no proper basis, and to protect the court system from being abused by such proceedings.
3. The provisions which we have to consider require us to be satisfied that the defendant has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground brought proceedings and that those proceedings were vexatious. The requirement of the section is, therefore, that the bringing of proceedings or the making of applications should have an element of persistence, should have no reasonable basis and should be vexatious in the sense of causing significant and unwarranted disruption to the lives or business of those who are sued.
4. The basis upon which the Attorney General makes the application before us today is unusual in this sense. The period over which the defendant has brought the proceedings about which complaint is made, is a period of only just over a year: between 15th October 1999 and 20th November 2000. Within that period of a year he has brought 11 sets of proceedings, arising substantially out of the same subject matter. Of those proceedings nine have been struck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action; one is subject to an application by the defendants in that action for judgment on the grounds that there is no prospect of success. The final action, although given an issue date of 2nd November 2000, has not in fact been issued because, according to the court, insufficient information has been provided to enable the matter to be properly processed.
5. The background is that the defendant is a serving prisoner. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for rape at the Central Criminal Court in 1996, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 12 years’ imprisonment. His appeal against conviction was dismissed. He is therefore facing a long period in custody. During his period in prison it is apparent that he has developed a real feeling of grievance about the way with which he has been dealt and, indeed, about the way with which others have been dealt in prison. He has made complaints about his treatment by prison officers and by the authorities generally. Indeed, he has made a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Partly underlying his concerns, as may be imagined, is his claim that he did not receive justice at his trial in the Court of Appeal. He complains that what was said and done at both stages of the trial process has had a significant effect on the way he is being treated in prison and, in particular, the way that his sentence programme has been constructed.
6. The consequence is that he has been seeking legal advice and has been writing substantial numbers of letters to the Home Office and to the Treasury Solicitor in relation to his complaints. He believes that as far as that correspondence is concerned it has been tampered with in contravention of the prison rules. He complains that the solicitors, whom he instructed to deal with his complaints, have failed properly to deal with them and have, he alleges, discriminated against him on the grounds of his race, by failing to provide him with the service which they provide to other prisoners (in particular white prisoners.) He complains that they have lost documents.
7. It is against that background that the spate of litigation commenced on 15th October 1999 with an action brought in the Wakefield County Court against the Home Office in which the defendant made general allegations of negligence, false reporting, a failure to compile a proper sentence plan, interference with his mail (in particular his legally privileged mail), and treatment by staff. Those proceedings were amended on 19th January 2000 by the addition of the Treasury Solicitor as a defendant and further claims relating to breaches of the Race Relations Act, complaining of direct and indirect discrimination, and other general allegations of that nature, but also including allegations of assault and trespass to his property.
8. The claim was the subject matter of an application by the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor to strike it out. The claim was struck out by District Judge Besford on 12th May 2000. Out of time, the defendant applied for permission to appeal. District Judge Besford dismissed that application. The defendant repeated that application to a deputy circuit judge who dismissed that application on 8th September 2000. I understand that the respondent is seeking to apply for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. There is in fact no jurisdiction in the Court of Appeal to entertain an application for permission to appeal against a refusal of permission to appeal. Accordingly, I consider that the action must be treated as having been struck out.
9. The second set of proceedings were also commenced on 15th October 1999. They started as a claim for negligence against his solicitors for their failure, as I have already previously indicated, to deal properly with his claims. Those proceedings were amended to make further allegations on 23rd March 2000. They were yet again reamended on 19th June 2000 to add the Home Office and Treasury Solicitor and to expand the allegations of negligence in relation to the solicitors, and discrimination both against the solicitors and the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor, also repeating the allegations of assault and trespass made in the first action. Those proceedings were struck out by District Judge Besford on 13th October 2000 on the grounds that the material provided by the defendant disclosed no reasonable cause of action, or was otherwise an abuse of the process of the court.
10. On 17th December 1999, the defendant brought proceedings against the Governor of Wakefield Prison, alleging that he had opened privileged mail. That action was struck out on 24th January 2000 and there has been no application for permission to appeal that order. On 3rd April 2000 a further action was commenced against the solicitors in the Leeds County Court, alleging contraventions of the Race Relations Act and direct and indirect discrimination. Those proceedings were struck out by District Judge Besford on 13th October 2000 at the same time as he struck out the second action and on the same basis.
11. On 11th April 2000 the defendant brought proceedings against the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor in the Leeds County Court alleging breaches of the Race Relations Act. Those proceedings are still extant. There is an application by the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor for judgment on the basis that the claim has no reasonable prospect of success. There is a cross-application by the defendant to strike out that application by the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor.
12. On 13th April 2000 yet further proceedings were commenced by the defendant against the Treasury Solicitor and the Home Office, claiming misfeasance in public office, fabricating false information and other assertions as to failure to perform public duty. There was a claim of defamation, further allegations of breaches of the Race Relations Act and allegations of refusing to let the claimant have recorded delivery slips after letters had been sent as proof of postage. That claim was also struck out on 13th October 2000 by District Judge Besford for the same reasons as was the second action.
13. On 28th April 2000 the defendant brought proceedings against the Royal Mail Customer Service Centre for misfeasance in public office and aiding and abetting unlawful acts by the prison service. The allegation essentially being that his mail had been stolen or otherwise tampered with. That action was also struck out by District Judge Besford on 13th October 2000, again for the same reasons as the second action.
14. On 11th May 2000 the defendant brought yet further proceedings against the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor, again making, in essence, precisely the same allegations has had been made in the previous proceedings that he had brought against those parties. Those proceedings were also struck out by District Judge Besford on 13th October 2000 for the same reasons as the second action.
15. On 20th June 2000 yet further proceedings were brought by the defendant against the Home Office and the Treasury Solicitor, making the same allegations as before. Those proceedings suffered the same fate as the previous proceedings. On 2nd November 2000, after his claims had been struck out by District Judge Besford, the defendant brought proceedings against the Home Office, the Treasury Solicitor, and 27 staff connected with Wakefield Prison, making essentially the same allegations once again as had been the subject matter of the previous proceedings. Those are the proceedings which have not yet been issued because the county court has required the defendant to provide certain further particulars which will enable the matter to be properly processed. The defendant says that he has not received that request from the county court, but it is certainly in the papers before us.
16. Finally, again on 2nd November, the defendant brought proceedings yet again against the Treasury Solicitor for misfeasance in public office and conspiring with others in the prison service to pervert the course of justice, with further allegations which replicate, in general terms, allegations which had been made in the previous proceedings. Those proceedings have also been struck out, on 10th January 2001.
17. It is in the light of that procedural history that it is said on behalf of HM Attorney General that this court ought to make a civil proceedings order. It is apparent from that history that the defendant has persistently been making the same complaints in various different guises, in various different actions, over a period of a year. Those proceedings have been found by the courts not to identify any proper course of action or, alternatively, to be an abuse of the process of the court.
18. The fact remains, however, that in this, as in many other cases, the detailed history provided by the defendant in one of the documents before us, namely the particulars that he was required to provide in the Leeds action, that was the action commenced on 11th April 2000, suggests that there might be amongst the plethora of generalised allegations, which are clearly not justiciable, some material which could at least found, not necessarily on a factual basis but at least on a theoretical basis, a possible claim against someone.
19. But the proceedings themselves were in a form which made it impossible for the court to deal with them. Despite the fact that the defendant has been repeatedly told that the way in which he is presenting matters does not enable the courts to proceed with actions in the form he has adopted, the defendant has persisted in that course. I have no doubt that unless an order under section 42 is made he will continue in the same vein. I have little doubt that this is a good example of a situation in which the court needs to make an order so as to exercise control over its processes and ensure that only proper claims proceed. The order under section 42 is not intended to prevent this defendant from making any proper complaints to the courts, it is intended to ensure that he does not bombard the court and unfortunate perspective defendants with unfounded, vexatious allegations.
20. I have no doubt that the proper order is, therefore, a Civil Proceedings Order under section 42. Accordingly, I would grant the Attorney General’s application in this case.
MR JUSTICE FORBES: I agree.
MR JAY: I am obliged to your Lordships. There is no application for costs.
LORD JUSTICE LATHAM: Yes.
Attorney General v Edwards (2)
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