Royal Courts of Justice

The Strand


Tuesday 3 November 1998



B e f o r e:


(Lord Bingham of Cornhill)








B E T W E E N:



- v -




Computer Aided Transcription by

Smith Bernal, 180 Fleet Street, London EC4

Telephone No: 071-421 4040

(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)


THE APPLICANT appeared in person

MR ROBERT JAY QC (instructed by The Treasury Solicitor) appeared on




(As Approved by the Court)


Tuesday 3 November 1998

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I will ask Mr Justice Collins to give the first judgment.

MR JUSTICE COLLINS: In form what is before us is an application by Miss Richards to set aside an order made under section 37 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 on 15 July 1998. That was an order which would have been made under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act restraining Miss Richards from instituting vexatious civil proceedings, whether in the High Court or any inferior court, or whether against the same person or against different persons: in short, a civil proceedings order.

That followed an application made by the Attorney General against Miss Richards which was lodged in June 1997. The reason why the court on 15 July made an interim order under section 37 was because on that date, which was fixed for the hearing of the application under section 42, Miss Richards did not appear. Mr Jay QC, who then as now appeared on behalf of the Attorney General, indicated to the court that it was not possible to establish that Miss Richards had been served with notice of the hearing for 15 July. One of the reasons for the difficulty in proving service was that Miss Richards had given as her address the Porter's Lodge at Lancaster University. She was then subject to an injunction which had been obtained by the university on 13 March 1998 which excluded her from the campus of the university. Accordingly it was not entirely surprising that documents sent to that address did not necessarily reach Miss Richards.

She has now given an explanation as to why she did not attend. She was unaware of the proceedings and it appears, from what she says, that she was ill at the material time. It seems to me that there is no point at this stage in going into the whys and wherefores of her non-attendance; suffice it to say that the court accepted that it would not be possible to make a final order under section 42 and accordingly on the application of Mr Jay made the interim order in question.

The authority relied on to grant jurisdiction to make such an order is Re Blackstone [1995] COD 105. In that case there was an application under section 42, and the reason why the court decided to make the order under section 37 was because it would not be possible for the substantive application to be heard for at least three months because of the long vacation. Steyn LJ, in giving the judgment, stated that the court was satisfied that the power under section 37 was sufficiently wide to cover the present case. He said:

"It would be extraordinary, where there was a strong basis for the assertion that a civil proceedings order ought to be made, that where there would be substantial delay before the matter could be heard if the court had no powers to prohibit proceedings of a prima facie vexatious nature."


He went on to say that the case was overwhelming and the probability that the respondent would, unless restrained, resort to further vexatious proceedings during the next three months indicated an urgent need for the relief.

The test applied in Blackstone and by the court in this case was whether there was a strong basis for the assertion that the order should be made and whether there really was an overwhelming case.

Although this is in form an application by Miss Richards to discharge that interim order, in reality if we are satisfied that it is not proper to discharge it the effect will inevitably be that we consider it right to make the final order under section 42. Mr Jay has urged upon us that in the circumstances we should indeed make such an order. The only reason not to might be that Miss Richards had not apparently had before her the file which was lodged by the Treasury Solicitor. For my part I do not think that that is a good reason for providing Miss Richards with a further chance to make an application that an order under section 42 should not be made. If I took the view that there was any possibility that anything she could raise might give rise to a reasonable chance that the court would consider not making such an order then I would not have dealt with the final matter today. But the contrary is the case and in my judgment we are fully justified in hearing the final application today.

The background to the application results from Miss Richards' attempt to take a law course at the University of Lancaster. She was granted entry to that course and registered as a first year student in October 1995. She had not told the University (according to it), in the course of making application to it, that she had already spent a year at Huddersfield University and had failed. Lancaster University believed that she was making an application to it as a student who had come on from A levels straight to the university course. That was not true.

Miss Richards asserts that she did inform Lancaster and that it was well aware of the position. She has produced a copy letter in which she says that is set out. The university denies ever having received the original of that letter. It does not coincide on the face of it with the information given by the University of Huddersfield when Lancaster contacted it. It seems that the way in which this came to light was because the Avon County Council, which was then the authority which would fund Miss Richards' three years at the university, had indicated that this was not the first funding that she had sought because she had been at Huddersfield. Avon was taken over by the South Gloucestershire County Council, and some of the litigation has been directed at that authority as well as at the University of Lancaster.

When Lancaster discovered what the true position was the university decided that Miss Richards should be sent down and should not continue to attend the course. Unfortunately it did this in breach of its own procedures. In those circumstances Miss Richards instituted proceedings against it, seeking an injunction restraining the university from evicting her from her student accommodation. She was granted an interim injunction in November 1995. It appears that that was an ex parte injunction. On 29 November, when both parties were represented, it was ordered by consent that the summons be dismissed and there was no order for costs, save legal aid taxation of Miss Richards' costs. The reason for this was that the university accepted that it had not complied with its own procedures, agreed to reinstate Miss Richards, and then went on to deal with the matter in the proper way. Having done that, it decided that Miss Richards should indeed be sent down for the same reasons.

Her final appeal to the Vice Chancellor of the university against that decision was dismissed on 21 March 1996.

That should have been an end of the matter. There is no suggestion that the proceedings that Miss Richards took against the university to prevent it sending her down were vexatious. They were not. It was a perfectly proper action and indeed it resulted in what Miss Richards wanted, namely reinstatement.

Unfortunately, thereafter Miss Richards has instituted a large number of different proceedings, all endeavouring to re-open the same matter. She accepts that she has done that, but she says the reason is because she has, she believes, a good case against the university for anticipatory breach of contract; that this claim has never been properly considered; and that the only reason she had to give up each action was because she could not get legal aid and she was not in a position financially to pursue the matters. The fact is though that in the course of the various proceedings she made a number of different interlocutory applications. Each of the actions was struck out and frequently Miss Richards would endeavour to appeal.

There were some nine different actions taken subsequent to the first one. In addition, in the course of some of those actions various applications were made, for example, for injunctions against the university. In due course, in March 1998 the university felt compelled to take out an injunction against Miss Richards because she persisted in attending lectures and disrupting proceedings. She says that she was only doing what she was entitled to do, because it had had no right to send her down.

It is not necessary to go into detail of the various actions that she took. They are all set out in the judgment that was given by Rose LJ on 15 July. Suffice it to say that each of those actions was an endeavour to raise precisely the same matter (sometimes in slightly different wording) as had been struck out in the preceding action. Most of those actions were commenced on the day the previous one was finally disposed of. Miss Richards moved from the Preston County Court to the Leeds County Court and then to the High Court, but in none of those venues did she find any relief. That is not surprising since each of the actions was quite hopeless and bound to fail because the university had quite properly -- and there can be no possible argument to the contrary -- decided that she should not attend that university.

It is quite plain from what she has said today that Miss Richards is eager to pursue the litigation. I have no doubt that if this order were not made the various actions would continue against the university, against South Gloucestershire, and perhaps against others who Miss Richards feels have done her wrong in the course of endeavouring, as she believes, to obtain redress to which she was entitled. In those circumstances I have no doubt whatever that the decision of the court on 15 July was correct. The case against her is overwhelming. There is no question but that she falls within the description of a vexatious litigant following the well-known principles enunciated by Lord Parker CJ in In re Vernazza [1959] 1 WLR 622, 624.

I should add that the effect of making this order is not to shut Miss Richards out from any genuine action that she may have in the future. She will, of course, be entitled to seek leave from a judge to bring proceedings, and will undoubtedly be permitted to bring any proceedings which are not themselves vexatious. Thus the effect of this order is not to shut her out wholly from bringing proceedings, merely to prevent her from bringing proceedings which ought not to be brought. In those circumstances I have no hesitation in making a final civil proceedings order under section 42.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I agree. I add emphasis simply to the last point which my Lord has made. The effect of this order is not to debar Miss Richards from instituting or continuing or making any application in any civil proceedings, but to debar her from taking any of those steps without the leave of the High Court. It is open to Miss Richards to seek leave and if she does so on proper grounds, leave will be granted. But Miss Richards must understand that leave will not be granted if the matter which she seeks to raise is one which has already been the subject of a conclusive judicial ruling, since the law does not permit the same issue to be re-litigated time after time. As a litigant with some knowledge of the law Miss Richards will, I am sure, understand the principle which underlies this rule.

In the result therefore, Miss Richards is not shut out from using the courts, but she must obtain the leave of the High Court. To obtain leave she will have to show that she has an arguable cause of action which has not been the subject of previous adjudication. I therefore agree that we should make a final order under section 42. It shall be in the same terms as the previous order, save insofar as that order was expressed to be interim. There will be no liberty to apply.

MR JAY: My Lord, in accordance with the Attorney General's usual practice there is no application for costs.


THE APPLICANT: My Lord, may I ask for leave to continue my action in the Court of Appeal to move for judicial review?

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: No. You must make application to a Judge of the High Court. That is the effect of the order.

THE APPLICANT: To the Court of Appeal?

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: No, the judge in chambers is the person to apply to.

THE APPLICANT: Thank you. I would like to point out that there have been a number of inaccuracies in your speeches. The files were sent to the defendants' solicitors, not my solicitors. You see, there are a number of inaccuracies in some of these issues. This matter has not been properly stated.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Thank you, Miss Richards. I do not know if you want your certificates back?


Attorney General v Richards
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