Royal Courts of Justice


London WC2

Wednesday, 14th January 1998

B e f o r e:




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(Computer-aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of

Smith Bernal Reporting Limited

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MR N GARNHAM (instructed by The Treasury Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.

The Respondent appeared in person.


(As Approved)

Crown copyright

Wednesday, 14th January 1998

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: Douglas Brown J will give the first judgment.

MR JUSTICE DOUGLAS BROWN: The Attorney General applies for a Vexatious Litigant (Civil Proceedings) Order against Mr Nicholas John Low. There is in existence an interim order made by the court on 14th July of this year. There was an earlier application in 1996 which was not proceeded with by the Attorney General for procedural reasons and has been withdrawn. These proceedings were commenced in May 1997.

The Attorney General relies on a large number, 61 cases, listed in a helpful schedule, which have been commenced, for the most part in the High Court by Mr Low. The earliest of these was in June 1991, but most of the actions or applications have been commenced since the beginning of 1994. Between the issue of the void proceedings in 1996 and the date of the interim order, Mr Low sought to commence some nine actions.

The application is made under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 as amended. It is not necessary to read the statutory provision, but it is sufficient if I summarise the three issues which arise on this application.

Firstly, has Mr Low habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted civil proceedings or applications? Secondly, were those proceedings vexatious? Thirdly, in all the circumstances, should this Court make the order asked for?

Before coming to those issues, I summarise the nature of the proceedings and, so far as is known, the result. There is no obvious common factor between the various actions. Mr Low is, amongst other occupations, a self-employed motor mechanic and motor vehicles, their sale, construction and use are the subject of a number of the actions. In addition, he is also a minister in the Transcendental Meditation Movement and this fact and the beliefs which he obviously sincerely holds feature frequently in his actions and in his pleadings.

In each of the actions, Mr Low has represented himself apparently without any legal assistance. At least 36 of the actions brought by him came to an end after orders striking out his claims. Not one of his actions has been pursued to a successful conclusion. Two were fully heard with judgment adverse to Mr Low. One of these in 1994 was a challenge to a planning decision of the Secretary of State for Wales under section 288(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Initially, Mr Justice Simon Brown had held that

Mr Low’s application was out of time, but this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal.

As far as I know, this was Mr Low’s only success in the extensive catalogue of litigation initiated by him. The other action which was heard, where he sued a car dealer for breach of contract and lost was in the Norwich County Court in 1994, but in addition there were a very considerable variety of defendants sued. The judicial officers sued included four high court judges, two circuit judges, a district judge, two Queen’s Bench masters, two magistrates clerks and two court associates as well as the Secretary to the Masters of the Queen’s Bench Division and the Accountant General of the Supreme Court. The actions against them were struck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action.

Mr Low has sued a number of solicitors instructed by defendants he had sued, and in two cases, he sued counsel who had acted for defendants. A considerable number of persons in public life have been sued by Mr Low where there was no possible cause of action and where the proceedings were entirely devoid of hope or merits. In addition to the then prime minister, Mr Major, he has sued five cabinet ministers, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor,

Mr McGregor the then Transport Secretary, Mrs Bottomley, the then Health Secretary, as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary of the day.

In another action he sued the Archbishop of Canterbury and included amongst the heads of claim, a claim for damages for negligence with regard to ethical standards in permitting abortion. Negligence was alleged in relation to the Archbishop’s attitude to opening hours to public houses and shops, to the national lottery and homosexuality, those were among the more intelligible heads of claim amongst the 21 separate pleaded paragraphs. By way of further example, he sued her Majesty the Queen in her capacity as patron of the RSPCA.

The case for the Attorney General is that the vast majority of Mr Low’s complaints and actions are unintelligible and the actions brought quite unreasonable. So far as unintelligibility is concerned, one of the actions in the divisional court prompted this comment from Lord Justice Balcombe about the material which Mr Low presented to the court. “It was obscure and difficult to follow”. The Attorney General’s case is that that comment applies to most of the cases and pleadings put forward by Mr Low.

The Attorney General contends through his counsel,

Mr Garnham, that the effect of these proceedings is plainly vexatious, and that a large number of defendants and respondents have been harassed by what is either malicious or trivial litigation. In response, Mr Low says, that he has throughout acted in good faith and there is no malicious content in any of the actions that he has brought.

Mr Low had a large number of complaints against public authorities and a large number of concerns which he wished to raise by the medium of litigation. All his actions were brought because he felt it necessary to commence proceedings, not only in relation to his only personal affairs but also because of his concerns for the well-being of animals and, indeed, concern for the well-being of the human race.

Mr Low has put in two affidavits, a long affidavit after the interim order was made, and this morning, by leave, he has put in a further short affidavit exhibiting a large number of exhibits.

He has, in the course of most courteously developed arguments, helpfully explained his points in relation to a number of the cases which are referred to in the schedule. Indeed, he has sought to enlarge the area of the Court’s knowledge of his litigation by referring to other actions, but we have declined to consider those. They are not relied upon by the Attorney General and we look at only those cases in the schedule.

I have considered the cases set out in the schedule, the documentation of which has been provided in voluminous form. In my view, in a few cases, Mr Low has in his proceedings raised genuine questions which call for the determination of the court. I will refer to them briefly by their numbers in the schedule. No 3, the planning matter, was clearly a matter which he was entitled to litigate, not only on the planning inquiry but also on the subsequent appeal, even though his appeal was unsuccessful. Similarly no 8, the county court action over the sale of a car appeared to follow fairly conventional lines and was confined largely to that particular issue.

Lastly, action no 30 was an action by Mr Low against a firm of tree felling experts where the Statement of Claim and the further and better particulars of that statement of claim provided by Mr Low, deal with the matter relevantly and sensibly, and might almost have been written by another hand when compared with the pleadings in the other matters, but that particular action seems to have gone to sleep for the last two years.

There is one other piece of litigation, no 7 which involved the death of some of Mr Low’s dogs and which was brought against, amongst other people, some vetinary surgeons. It is just possible that that litigation had a sensible and real purpose, although the pleadings themselves extend to a large number of other matters which are not in the least germane to the issues which Mr Low sought to raise in that case.

Having said that, by far the greater number of his actions and applications demonstrate, in my view, that he has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted these proceedings. The action against the Archbishop of Canterbury contained claims that could only be described as nonsense. That action does not seem to have been pursued. The action against the Chancellor of the Exchequer contains allegations which are so non-sensical as not to require further currency to be given to them by repeating them. They were meaningless and irrelevant, and that action was struck out.

I have no doubt whatever that the preponderance of these applications and actions were vexatious. In a number of cases different courts expressly found that the proceedings were scandalous, frivolous vexatious or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court. Occasionally, but very infrequently, appeals were made to the judge in chambers, but those appeals failed and Mr Low cannot challenge those decisions now in these proceedings as I think he recognises.

In one action brought in 1995 against Wrexham Borough Council and 27 other defendants the Master, in giving judgment and striking out the claims in respect of a number of them, said that only a genius could understand the endorsement on the writ, and continued:

“I regard the action a gross abuse of process, not least of all because it joins together 28 seemingly unrelated defendants.”

Later in his judgment he said:

“The joinder of all these parties is an astonishing abuse of process.”

I need only mention further the fact that ten of

Mr Low’s actions were against judges at different levels who found against him in earlier cases and he claimed negligence and breach of duty on their part in so doing. Judges, of course, should be and are thick-skinned and able to take legitimate criticism of their decisions. However, these actions, like all the others, give rise to the expenditure of time, trouble and costs wholly needlessly incurred and they can rightly be described as vexatious. To illustrate this, I need only refer to one other action, that is No. 37, an action against a firm of solicitors and a district judge. Mr Low exhibited to an affidavit in the course of those proceedings, 122 pages of wholly irrelevant documents mostly copies of material from his other actions.

It is obvious, if I may say so, having heard Mr Low, that he is entirely sincere in the views that he holds, and there is no element of malice in any of the actions that he has brought. I will go further. In relation to his views as to the care of animals and the wellbeing of human beings, he holds views passionately and sincerely. Instead of seeking to make those views known by, for example, a letter to his member of Parliament or to a newspaper, he has sought to give expression to his views by launching quite pointless proceedings against this large variety of defendants. In all the circumstances, I am in no doubt that the order sought by the Attorney General should be made.

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: For the reasons given by my Lord, I agree that a civil proceedings order should be made.

Mr Low, although we are grateful to you for the care in which you have answered your case, you have lost it. What that means is, you can start cases, but only if you get the leave of a High Court judge, that is what the Act provides. Some would say, although you may not agree, this is actually an advantage: you get free advice from a high court judge who ought to know what he is doing. I want to give you this warning that you must not ignore this order and keep on launching actions, because if you do, in the last analysis, you may find yourself in prison, you would not want that and nor would I. If you feel that it is essential to litigate something as opposed to writing to your MP, then you will have to try and put down in clear and intelligible form which you may not be able to do. It is like me with plumbing, I explained that to you earlier. Try and show what are the facts you allege, then the judge will be able to see, supposing those facts are true, if there a cause of action, do you see?

The Court will make a civil proceedings order. There are no further applications?

MR GARNHAM: I make no application for costs.

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: Do you have a further application to make, Mr Low?

THE APPLICANT: With regard to the matter involving the Forestry people, I had written to the county court and they were aware of the order that was pending at that time, so it has been dormant largely because of these proceedings, and also of the matters which were recently issued, one involving the Enterprise Allowance Scheme for my business and such things which after six months was adjourned. I was not allowed to go on it and I felt -- I would like to follow that case through if I can, in the form that the order had been sought, in the original instance, that I should make an application to this Court, I think that possibly the Court might be able to give directions on those cases.

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: That is not the formal form with us, the formal form is if you wish to proceed with any existing case you will need to make an application to the High Court judge in chambers, so a single judge’s rather than two judges’ time is applied on it. That is the way that it is normally done and I think it probably should be done in this case, Mr Garnham do you have anything to say?

MR GARNHAM: My Lord, the reason I am hesitating is, in respect of one of the actions which Mr Low has just referred to, your Lordships have indicated that on the face of it, it is a reasonable course of action. Can I taken instructions as to what the Attorney’s position would be to that?

THE APPLICANT: Might I say that I had written at some point in the last few months to the Attorney General to see what course I could take with the existing cases and did not receive a reply, so I have been in a position of limbo with regard to proceeding on them. If it had been any help to have gone ahead at that stage, whilst these proceedings were pending, I do not know, but they are issues which could be regenerated.

MR GARNHAM: My Lord, I am reminded that in respect of the one that I had in mind, the case has actually been dormant for two years it is not pending the hearing of this application.

MR JUSTICE DOUGLAS BROWN: There is no defence with the papers, is this the forestry one?

MR GARNHAM: That is right, my Lord.

MR JUSTICE DOUGLAS BROWN: There is a Statement of Claim, further and better particulars of the Statement of Claim, although the request is not in the file, but apparently there is no defence.

MR GARNHAM: We have not seen one.

MR JUSTICE DOUGLAS BROWN: The applications, of course, the plaintiff might want to take is an application for judgment in default of defence. I daresay that if an application was made to a judge in respect of that, it would be granted. The question for today is, can we make the general order under section 42?

MR GARNHAM: Discretional jurisdiction, I would not seek to persuade your Lordships that you do not have that power.

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: We are part of the High Court. What I have done sometimes in cases like this is, because one has a high court judge who is familiar, broadly speaking, with the background to the case, it would be advantageous that applications for anything further be made to him in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. That application is initially ex parte, is it not?

MR GARNHAM: Yes, it is.

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: For a specific procedure. Mr Low, what is it that you want to do in that particular action, is it number 30?

THE APPLICANT: Yes. The one involving the forestry was an action, I believe an offence was heard and it was struck out as frivolous.


THE APPLICANT: The action was struck out and the defence succeeded. The problem had arisen, and I have photographic evidence here, because of the way they felled, there is a lot of fallen trees since then, it seems a little bit of a point of law that it was not frivolous in the first instance.

LORD JUSTICE SCHIEMANN: Quite frankly, I think, in relation to that matter as in relation to all the others, if you want to make an application to do anything specific in the light of facts as they now stand, then you must make it in the usual way to the High Court judge because this Court is not set up to deal with these applications in the light of new material, do you follow? So we will make the civil proceedings order in the normal form. That I think concludes today’s proceedings? Thank you very much both of you.

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