IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICECO/2606/98
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Royal Courts of Justice
Tuesday, 5th October 1999
B e f o r e:
LORD JUSTICE LAWS
MR JUSTICE POTTS
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HER MAJESTY'S ATTORNEY-GENERAL
LESLIE NORMAN PARLETT
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MR R JAY (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor, London SW1H 9JS) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
THE RESPONDENT appeared in person.
J U D G M E N T
(As approved by the Court)
Tuesday, 5th October 1999
1. LORD JUSTICE LAWS: Before us this morning is listed an application under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981. The Attorney-General seeks an all proceedings order against the Respondent under that section. Were such an order to be granted it would of course mean that the Respondent would be prohibited from bringing or continuing any civil or criminal proceedings or making any application in civil proceedings without the leave of the High Court. It goes without saying that the jurisdiction is important but also draconian and has to be exercised with great care. In the result, for reasons I shall explain shortly, we propose to adjourn the application.
2. In summary form the history is this. The Respondent, Mr Parlett, was involved in a bitter dispute with his sons and his ex-wife. The dispute concerned the ownership and management of certain family companies. Mr Parlett brought proceedings in the Bristol Mercantile Court in which His Honour Judge Jack gave judgment on 14th October 1994. It is not necessary to enter into the detail. In a sentence the Respondent lost his claim for unpaid salary and bonus and certain money judgments were entered against him in favour of one of the companies, one for some £30,000, the other for some £11,000. He was, however, partially successful in the Court of Appeal in 1996. However, from 1995 onwards he issued no less than 10 sets of further civil proceedings and in 1997 laid a series of criminal informations. All or nearly all of these sets of proceedings sought to relitigate aspects of the earlier dispute in relation to which he had been unsuccessful. Hence the Attorney-General’s application under section 42.
3. It seems, however, (and Mr Jay accepts this) that the Respondent Mr Parlett has conducted other litigation unconnected with this unhappy family dispute. He has done so perfectly properly and, we understand, often successfully. He has for some time carried on business as a professional landlord and has been involved in County Court proceedings in that capacity.
4. I should make it clear that we have not decided that the course of the Respondent’s litigation against his family would justify an order under section 42, having by no means heard full argument. But it is right to say that the voluminous papers, which of course we have studied with some care, disclose a powerful prima facie case if that litigation is looked at in isolation. It is clear that the court has no power to make a split or partial order under section 42 prohibiting the Respondent from litigating only against named parties: Hutchinson  WN 102. That case was decided under an earlier statute, but its effect, as Mr Jay accepts, is unaltered by the somewhat different terms of the current section.
5. We have today questioned Mr Parlett with some care as to his present intentions in relation to any litigation which might resurrect issues canvassed before His Honour Judge Jack. I emphasise that we have not sought any undertaking from him. That we think would be of doubtful propriety. He has, however, made it clear to us that he accepts that he can go no further in seeking to escape the effects of Judge Jack’s judgment, whether by the issue of civil or criminal process. If that is his true state of mind and he sticks to it, it would not be right to make a section 42 order today, not least given the history of other unconnected and perfectly proper litigation. We therefore canvassed the possibility with Mr Jay and with Mr Parlett himself that these proceedings might be adjourned. If after 12 months it is apparent that Mr Parlett indeed has not gone back to court to raise again these old issues arising out of his dispute with his family, then the Attorney-General would no doubt seek leave to withdraw the section 42 application. If, unhappily, Mr Parlett were to return to the fray and seek again to open up disputes settled by His Honour Judge Jack in an appeal, then no doubt the Attorney-General would seek to pursue the application under section 42.
6. Mr Jay took instructions as to whether the Attorney-General would be content with that course or would wish to press us to a full determination of the section 42 application. He drew our attention to a short report in The Times Law Reports for April 26th 1999, a decision of the Court of Appeal, the Master of the Rolls presiding, in Ebert v Birch and Another. In that case the Court of Appeal affirmed that the High Court possessed an inherent jurisdiction to prevent the initiation of civil proceedings which were likely to constitute an abuse of the process of the court. The context of the case involved litigation in the Chancery Division in which the court had been asked to make orders under the inherent jurisdiction prohibiting the issue of fresh litigation against certain parties. It is right to emphasise with respect that when the matter came before the Court of Appeal an application by the Attorney-General under section 42 was at that time pending. The proceedings by which orders under the inherent jurisdiction were sought had not been instituted by the Attorney-General, as we understand it, but by private parties. As I say, the court affirmed that the jurisdiction existed and indeed thought it right to uphold the orders that had been made in that case at first instance. Mr Jay canvassed the possibility that it would be right to make such an order in this case against Mr Parlett.
7. I do not think that that would be an appropriate course. While it is clear that the Court of Appeal held that the inherent jurisdiction was not displaced by the statute, there seems to me to be a world of difference between a case in which relief is being given to a private party to prevent litigation against him in a context where section 42 proceedings are outstanding, and will no doubt in due course come on for hearing, and a situation where the Attorney-General himself in effect seeks an order under the inherent jurisdiction as a substitute for a section 42 order.
8. Not having heard full argument, it would not be right, as it seems to me, to enter into any discussion of the limits of the inherent jurisdiction. For my part, I would merely say that it is not appropriate to exercise it in this case, both having regard to the difference in context between this case and Ebert v Birch and also on the merits, having regard to Mr Parlett’s clear statement, though, I repeat, not an undertaking, that he recognises that he can go no further in the courts to pursue his dispute with his family.
9. In those circumstances, it seems to me right to adjourn the Attorney’s application under section 42. I would adjourn it for 12 months. At the end of that period the Attorney would no doubt seek to have the matter relisted and, as I have already said, it may then appear appropriate either to give leave to withdraw the application or unhappily to proceed with it. It goes without saying that nothing in this short judgment is intended to indicate what the result of the section 42 application would ultimately be if it were necessary to argue it out. It is obviously to be hoped in the public interest, and indeed in Mr Parlett’s interest, that such a course will not be necessary. It very much depends upon his own future conduct. I would make the Order that I have indicated.
10. I am grateful to my Lord and I shall add this. It is perhaps obvious to the parties, but it needs to be made clear that this order would not, of course, prohibit the Attorney-General returning to court within the 12 months if he has proper grounds to do so either in relation to any fresh proceedings Mr Parlett has issued against his family members or family companies in the civil courts or in the criminal courts.
11. MR JUSTICE POTTS: I agree with the course proposed by my Lord. I would express the hope that 12 months from today this court is in a position to approve the dismissal of this application.
12. LORD JUSTICE LAWS: Is there anything else?
13. MR JAY QC: No.
14. LORD JUSTICE LAWS: Mr Parlett, are you entirely clear about what we have done?
15. MR JAY: Yes, entirely, my Lord.
16. LORD JUSTICE LAWS: Thank you very much. I am grateful to Mr Jay and to Mr Parlett for their assistance.
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