IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE CO/4/97
QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION
CROWN OFFICE LIST
Royal Courts of Justice
Monday 14th April 1997
B e f o r e:
LORD JUSTICE AULD
MR JUSTICE BRIAN SMEDLEY
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(Computer-aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of
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MR R SINGH (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
THE RESPONDENT appeared in person.
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J U D G M E N T
(As Approved by the Court)
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Monday 14th April 1997
LORD JUSTICE AULD: This is an application by the Attorney General for a civil proceedings order under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (as amended) against Barbara Morriss. The Attorney General maintains that
Mrs Morriss has, in the words of the section 42(1) of the Act, habitually and persistently and without any reasonable grounds instituted vexatious civil proceedings and made vexatious applications in civil proceedings, including applications for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal and onwards to the House of Lords.
The order that the Attorney General seeks is that Mrs Morriss should be prevented from instituting civil proceedings without the leave of the High Court in any court, that she shall be prevented from continuing such proceedings without the leave of the High Court and that the only application she may make in any civil proceedings shall be one seeking leave.
The case in support of the Attorney General’s application is set out in three affidavits sworn by
Mr Anthony Peter Michael Aylett of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department to which he has exhibited a large body of documents evidencing proceedings instituted and applications made in those proceedings by
Mrs Morriss. In summary, that material demonstrates that she has instituted a number of vexatious actions and has made a number of vexatious applications in the County Court, the High Court and in the Court of Appeal since September 1993.
Mr Singh, in his helpful submissions on behalf of the Attorney General, has taken us through the documents exhibited to Mr Aylett’s affidavits evidencing such claims. Every one of them, in my judgment, makes claims which are patently fantastic and have no basis in law or identifiable evidential basis. The various proceedings have mostly been dismissed or struck out on the grounds that they were frivolous, vexatious and/or or an abuse of the process of the court. Orders for costs, mostly I think in modest sums, have been made against
Mrs Morriss, orders which, in the main, she has not complied with. It is clear that over the last four years or so her litigation has been conducted at very great cost to others and at the expense of much public and private time.
As I have said, some of the matters of which the Attorney General has complained are attempts by Mrs Morriss to appeal orders of the court below dismissing or striking out her claim. On two occasions she has made application to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal in a number of those cases. On each occasion the judgments of the court demonstrate, as she acknowledged at the time, that she had no cause of action in English Law and the difficulties that she would have had in proving any of her complaints. She has said much the same to this court today.
However, Mr Singh has pointed out that her realisation of the position, and its underlining by the Court of Appeal on the two occasions to which I have referred, have not deterred her from trying on several occasions to petition the House of Lords to appeal after the refusal by the Court of Appeal to grant her leave to appeal to it. That is despite the clear information given to her that the House of Lords has no jurisdiction to entertain a petition following refusal of such leave by the Court of Appeal.
The various actions instituted by Mrs Morriss were complaints of the alleged invasion of her privacy by broadcasting organisations. More recently, she has made other, but no less fanciful, allegations of a different nature.
I shall deal briefly with each of the actions detailed by Mr Aylett in his affidavits and evidenced by the documents exhibited to them which prompt the Attorney General to make this application today.
The first of eight actions begun since 1993 was an action instituted in the Stoke-on-Trent County Court on
29th September 1993 against Signal Radio. In her particulars of claim Mrs Morriss complained, among other things, of invasion of her privacy, alteration of her heartbeat and, as she put it, loss of her entire life as a result of the alleged interference by Signal Radio by means of the airwaives. The particulars of claim in that case are fairly typical of the allegations made in the succeeding actions. I read a few of the paragraphs just to illustrate the nature of her concerns:
“1. Invasion of Privacy
Listening in to my house, car, and any and all private and public places where I happen to be, over a number of years. The total of which is unknown, but it is at least ten years, and it could be thirty.
People talking at me and not to me regarding all private and personal matters. All done and said in such a way that I cannot retaliate, but am caused terrible distress by this provocation.
3. Altering my Heartbeat
Altering my heartbeat with an unknown instrument by someone in close proximity. Also inflicting sharp pains on my body or head with the same or similar instrument.
Restraining or compelling me to do or confess whatever they wish by use of psychological broadcasting aimed at me specifically.
5. The loss of my entire life
The loss of my entire life and lifestyle to this day. I have never had a life of my own, they choose or spoil everything for me.
9. Shortening of my lifespan
Shortening my lifespan through stress and distress.”
Mr Recorder Cavell struck out that claim on 15th October 1993.
Mrs Morriss applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal. She did so in relation to a second action as well, to which I will come. Kennedy LJ, who gave the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal, commented, as I have already mentioned in my summary of the matter, had acknowledged in argument that the law gave her no relief for the matters of which she complained. He upheld the decision of Mr Recorder Cavell striking out her action in that and the other matter because the law did not provide any relief for her.
The second action which Mr Morriss began only a few days after the first in Stoke-on-Trent County Court made similar allegations against the British Broadcasting Corporation. As I have indicated, that too was struck out again by Mr Recorder Cavell on
15th October 1993. Mrs Morriss’ application for leave to appeal that order was also refused in the hearing before the Court of Appeal to which I have referred.
Notwithstanding her own acknowledgment of the position and the terms of Kennedy LJ’s judgment in those two matters, Mrs Morriss petitioned the House of Lords for leave to appeal. Their Lordships were not prepared to consider the petition, in accordance with the rule in Lane v. Esdaile  AC 10.
Mrs Morriss started a third action on 6th April 1994, again, in the Stoke-on-Trent County Court. This time her claim was against Central Independent Television. She alleged wounding, conspiracy, criminal libel, voluntary manslaughter and breach of privacy. On 1st April 1994 Mr Recorder Wait struck out the action, ordering her to pay costs. She sought leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal which the court refused. Again she petitioned for leave to appeal to the House of Lords, which their Lordships declined to consider.
On the same day as she had begun the third action she instituted a fourth action, still in the Stoke-on-Trent County Court, against Channel Four TV, making similar allegations to those in the third action. That too was struck out by Mr Recorder Wait and the Court of Appeal refused her application for leave to appeal.
Mrs Morris’s fifth action was instituted on
13th July 1994 in the Stoke-on-Trent County Court. The defendants in this instance were the Attorney General and the Speaker of the House of Commons. The burden of her complaint was that Parliament had failed to legislate to protect her from invasion of her privacy, that it should have made breach of privacy a criminal offence and in failing to do so it was negligent. Judge Allardice struck out the claim. Yet again Mrs Morriss sought leave from the Court of Appeal to appeal. The Court of Appeal refused leave. Lady Justice Butler Sloss gave the first judgment. She recorded:
“Mrs Morriss has accepted in these proceedings, as she had before Kennedy LJ and his fellow Lord Justice in the earlier actions, that she had no cause of action for what she claimed was Parliament’s failure to legislate to protect her claim of privacy and that she could not prove the matters of fact of which she complained.”
Mrs Morriss petitioned for leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Again, their Lordships failed to entertain it.
Her sixth action was instituted on 8th June 1995 in the Stoke-on-Trent District Registry of the High Court. It was a claim against BBC Television Centre alleging failure to pay an invoice of over a million pounds for services she claimed to have rendered. The invoice read:
“For the employment of
Prince James Morriss
via Invasion of Privacy
From 1947 to 1990
Hourly rate £14.00
43 Years (24 Hr day rate) producing a total of over 5 million.”
District Judge Ilsley struck out the action on
25th July 1995. Mrs Morriss appealed to
Mr John Milme QC, sitting as a High Court Judge. He dismissed her appeal on 30th October 1995.
It is at that point that Mrs Morriss began to allege more than invasion of her privacy and matters associated with it. On 18th June 1996 she instituted an action in the Stoke-on-Trent District Registry of the High Court against the Local Chief Constable and a number of others, witnesses who, I think, who were involved in a prosecution of her for a driving offence to which she had pleaded guilty. She alleged malicious prosecution. District Judge Liley struck out that claim on 21st August 1996. Her application for leave to appeal out of time was dismissed last week, on 7th April 1997, by His Honour Judge Ward, sitting as a High Court judge.
The eighth action was instituted on 18th July 1996 against the South Staffordshire Health Authority on behalf of a cousin of Mrs Morriss, a Mrs Joy Fielding, in respect of that woman’s mother’s death in 1946.
In the proceedings Mrs Morriss represented herself as executor for the deceased. She was not the executor. She tells us today this was to obtain probate in the event of a claim for damages succeeding. She amended the writ so as to substitute for herself the deceased’s daughter, Joy Fielding as the plaintiff, but in the amended proceedings she held herself out as “Barbara Fielding Morriss, Lawyer, Fielding Morriss Prosecution Service” with an address in Stoke-on-Trent. The health authority served a defence pleading limitation. Mrs Morriss responded by seeking to extend the limitation period but, on 22nd November 1996, District Judge Evans ordered that her claim be struck out. Mrs Morriss applied to Judge Ward, sitting as a High Court Judge, for leave to appeal. She maintained that the amount claimed in respect of the death of the deceased was over £9,000,000 with interest, continuing at a daily rate of nearly £2,000. Judge Ward dismissed that application last week, on 7th April, at the same time as he dismissed the earlier application.
Mrs Morriss has prepared for the court a skeleton argument and has sworn an affidavit challenging the Attorney General’s application. At the heart of her submissions is her claim that all her allegations in the various proceedings have merit. She acknowledges that the law does not provide relief for her in all or most of them. She acknowledges that, even if it did, she could not prove the matters, particularly of invasion of her privacy, of which she complains. However, she argues that, if only the defendant corporations could be required to attend court through their directing employees and could be subjected to questioning, she might be able to prove something. Mrs Morriss complained of the procedural rule that a corporation can only be brought to court through means of their legal representatives. However, Mrs Morriss would find that, even if the procedural position were different, she could not proceed in any of these matters without being able to show an arguable cause of action and an arguable case on the facts to support it. Clearly, she cannot do that, and acknowledges that she cannot do that.
She maintains, however, that she has suffered genuine harm and distress in the various ways particularised in the actions to which I have referred. She maintains that the law is wrong not to protect her and to give her a remedy. She maintains that, whatever can be said about her, she has not been vexatious in instituting the various proceedings. She has not done it maliciously or wantonly or without a true belief in the rightness of her cause.
The test is not the state of mind in which the potential subject of the order brings the proceedings, but whether the court, looking at them individually and cumlatively, objectively regards them as being vexatious in the sense of being brought without any reasonable ground and having been brought habitually and persistently without any reasonable ground. If authority were needed for that proposition it is to be found in the leading case on this subject in a judgment of Ormerod LJ in the Court of Appeal in In re Vernazza  1 QB 197 at 208. In my judgment the Attorney General is entitled to the order that he seeks. Mrs Morriss has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted proceedings of a fanciful nature against a large number of defendants over the last four years. In my judgment, the time has come for that to stop.
Accordingly, I would make a civil proceedings order as sought by the Attorney General in his notice of originating motion in these terms:
“No civil proceedings shall without the leave of the High Court be instituted by Mrs Morriss in any court; any civil proceedings instituted by her in any court before the making of this order shall not be continued without the leave of the High Court; and no application other than an application for leave under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 shall be made by Mrs Morriss in any civil proceedings instituted in any court by her, without the leave of the High Court.”
MR JUSTICE BRIAN SMEDLEY: I agree. I just add, since we are making the order under section 42, that of course I accept, as Mrs Morriss points out, that to restrain someone from having access to the courts is a drastic restriction on civil rights. As Staughton LJ said in Attorney General v. Jones  1 WLR 865:
“... and is still a restriction if it is subject to leave being granted by a High Court judge.”
But the basis of the application by the Attorney General is that the time must come when it is right in the public interest to exercise the power to restrict such actions. The first reason is that opponents who are harassed by the worry and expense of such actions are entitled to protection whether they are individuals or whether they are corporate bodies. An example here is the wholly incredible action begun against the South Staffordshire Health Authority and the time and expense occasioned to legal advisers in seeking to resist it. The second reason is that the resources of the judicial system, we must bear in mind, should be sufficient to afford justice without an unreasonable delay to those who have genuine justiciable grievances and should not be squandered on those actions which have no basis in law or have no evidential support. Mrs Morriss accepts that that is the position in all the actions here, details of which my Lord, Auld LJ has set out. The second consideration, in my judgment, becomes increasingly important as those resources become increasingly stretched. I am convinced therefore this is a clear case in which the order proposed by my Lord should be made.
MR SINGH: There are no further applications.
LORD JUSTICE AULD: Very well. There will be an order made in those terms.
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