Royal Courts of Justice


London WC2

Friday, 4th February 2000

B e f o r e:




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(Computer-aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of

Smith Bernal Reporting Limited

180 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2HG

Telephone No: 0171-421 4040/0171-404 1400

Fax No: 0171-831 8838

Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)

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THE APPLICANT appeared in person.

MR B CARR (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor, London SW1H 9JS) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.



(As approved by the Court)

(Crown Copyright)

Friday, 4th February 2000

1. LORD JUSTICE SIMON BROWN: There is before the court an application by the Attorney-General by motion to have the Respondent, Geoffrey Harold Scriven, declared a vexatious litigant, as it is often colloquially put, or, putting it more legalistically, for a civil proceedings order under the provisions of section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (as amended). So far as material, section 42 provides:

“(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;


(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 ...

(1A) In this section -‘civil proceedings order’ means an order that -

(a) no civil proceedings shall without the leave of the High Court be

instituted in any court by the person against whom the order is made;

(b) any civil proceedings instituted by him in any court before the making of the order shall not be continued by him without the leave of the High Court; and

(c) no application (other than one for leave under this section) shall be

made by him, in any civil proceedings instituted in any court by any

person, without the leave of the High Court ...

(3) Leave for the institution or continuance of, or for the making of an application in, any Civil proceedings by a person who is the subject of an order for the time being in force under subsection

(1) shall not be given unless the High Court is satisfied that the proceedings or application are not an abuse of the process of the court in question and that there are reasonable grounds for the proceedings or application.”

2. The papers before the court, as usual in such applications, are voluminous, but I shall seek to relate the relevant facts as briefly as may be. The story begins in 1992, when the Respondent’s former wife, Beryl Scriven, commenced divorce proceedings against him. When the proceedings were issued the petition had entered upon it the date of 15th August 1992. In fact, it was not until 2nd September 1992 that Mr Scriven first saw solicitors in relation to possible divorce proceedings, and furthermore 15th August 1992 was a Saturday. It follows from those two facts that the date on the petition could not have been correct. It is that which has led the Respondent to believe that he is the victim of a fraud perpetrated against him and which his former wife obtained, first, a divorce and, thereafter, financial provision. The overwhelming likelihood is that the correct date for the petition was, in fact, 15th September 1992, and that the August date was a pure mistake.

3. That, however, is something which the Respondent has never been able to accept and which ultimately led him to issue writ after writ against an ever widening circle of people whom he regarded in one way or another as associated with the fraud that he had so strongly persuaded himself had been committed against him.

4. Before, however, I come to outline that series of actions, I ought just to mention something of the initial litigation by which the Respondent sought to appeal against the decree of divorce and the various ancillary orders made against him. The initial hearing of the divorce petition was before Judge Lees, a contested case over some two-and-a-half days in May 1993. He found in favour of the wife and granted her a decree nisi of divorce. In the course of his judgment, later described by Balcombe LJ as “a long and careful judgment”, he at one point said this:

“I found the respondent to be a self-righteous, opinionated and vindictive person. I do not accept his assertion that there was any conspiracy as he alleged ... I furthermore do not see how, from a practical point of view, inserting such a date could materially assist any conspiracy that might come into or have come into operation, and it seems to me that if someone wished to bring in further a conspiracy in the way the respondent contended, that to predate it to a Saturday seemed to be a very odd thing to do.”

5. The decree was made absolute on 8th July 1983. A year later the Respondent applied to the Court of Appeal (a division consisting of Balcombe LJ and myself) for leave to appeal against Judge Lees’ order.

6. I should observe at this point that on this basis the Respondent at the outset of today’s hearing invited me to recuse myself. Tempting though it is in these cases to accede to such an application, I do not and did not think I properly could, any more than Evans LJ thought he could on 10th March 1997. The fact is that nothing that occurred at that early hearing could in any way bias me in respect of the present application and, in any event, Mr Scriven seems at one time or another to have appeared before the great bulk of the judges who sit in this jurisdiction, many more even than will come to be mentioned in this judgment.

7. I return to the Court of Appeal hearing. Balcombe LJ’s conclusion was this:

“I regret to say that the Judge’s conclusion, which he puts in a passage of his judgment, that Mr Scriven had become paranoid about some aspects of the case, particularly the alleged conspiracy against him by a number of lawyers and others in Manchester is, regrettably, to me made out.

But let me say at once that, be that as it may, I am quite satisfied that any appeal against the findings by the Judge of the fact that this husband had behaved in such a way that his wife could not reasonably be expected to live with him is bound to fail.”

8. I agreed and added:

“... I fear that nothing we or any other Court may say, unless it happens to suit Mr Scriven, will be accepted by him. Rather, it is all too likely that we in turn will be branded a kangaroo Court and party to the conspiracy which Mr Scriven apparently feels exists between all the lawyers, Judges, and indeed shorthand writers, who have become involved in this litigation. ...”

9. After that, an ancillary relief order was made by Judge Earnshaw which, in turn, the Respondent sought to appeal. That application failed before the Court of Appeal (Neill LJ and Cazalet J) on 22nd March 1995, when Neil LJ said this:

“Both Lord Justice Balcombe and Lord Justice Simon Brown came to the conclusion that the appeal could not possibly succeed. In effect before us Mr Scriven is raising the same point. He is saying that the application for ancillary relief cannot be a valid application because it is based upon a decree which itself is invalid because the documents which contained the petition are false. ...”

10. There were, I may note, a number of further ancillary relief orders made thereafter by Judge Earnshaw which, in turn, the Respondent sought unsuccessfully to appeal to the Court of Appeal. On 30th October 1995 Evans and Waite LJJ refused one such application. On 12th January 1996 Butler Sloss and Waite LJJ refused another. Meanwhile, the Respondent had commenced the long series of actions which have prompted this section 42 application by the Attorney-General. I propose to identify these 11 actions and indicate their fate very briefly indeed.

11. Action No 1 was brought on 2nd May 1995 against Mrs Scriven, the Respondent’s ex-wife; Davies Arnold Cooper, the solicitors who had acted for her or had taken over the firm that had acted for her in the divorce proceedings; and Sonia Gal, her counsel in those proceedings. It alleged conspiracy, fraud, falsification of evidence and perjury. On 12th June 1995 it was struck out by District Judge Fairclough and, on 19th January 1996, the Respondent’s appeal against that striking-out order was dismissed by Gage J on two basic grounds: (i) because the claim disclosed no reasonable cause of action; and (ii) because it constituted an abuse of the court’s process. As to this second ground, Gage J said this:

“In my judgment the real substance of the claim made by the plaintiff relates to the matters to which I have already referred, which have been the subject of first of all the litigation in the divorce petition, then the appeal, then the ancillary proceedings and the subsequent appeals in the ancillary proceedings. So far as I can tell, in every single one of those sets of proceedings and appeals to the Court of Appeal, the point has been made and vigorously made by the plaintiff that the original petition was a false and fraudulent document because it contained a false date. Those matters have been dealt with by various courts, and his submissions made on that point rejected. In my judgment to put these matters now in these proceedings is yet another attempt to relitigate that which has already been litigated in the divorce proceedings.”

12. An application for leave to appeal against Gage J’s order was dismissed by the Court of Appeal (Russell and Roch LJJ) on 23rd May 1996. Meantime, the Respondent had commenced two further actions, both of which was struck out by Gage J on the same occasion as he dismissed the Respondent’s appeal in action 1 and on the self-same grounds.

13. Action 2 was brought on 29th August 1995 against Pannone & Partners who had come to employ Mrs Beth Wilkins, a solicitor previously with Davies Arnold Cooper whilst they were acting for Mrs Scriven. The same sort of allegations were made as in action 1.

14. Action 3 was brought on 18th September 1995 against another firm of solicitors, James Chapman & Co, who were acting for Davis Arnold Cooper in the first action. Again, the same sort of allegations were made as in the earlier actions, and, as I repeat, all three ended before Gage J on 26th January 1996, subject only to the further rejection of the first action, as stated, by the Court of Appeal on 23rd May.

15. Action 4 was brought the very next month, on 19th February 1996, against Michael Howard QC, MP, the then Home Secretary. It alleged against him, amongst other things, that he:

“... knowingly and willfully permitted and condoned:

a)malicious falsehoods against the Plaintiff

causing personal, professional and

financial damage.

b)a legal mafia to corrupt the judiciary

at all levels, fully aware that the

mafia are related and closely connected

to the judiciary they corrupted.”

16. That action was eventually struck out after various intermediate proceedings by Buxton J (as he then was) on 10th April 1997.

17. Action 5 was brought on 6th August 1996, a further action against Beth Wilkins, this time with the Law Society as second defendant. Again, essentially, the same allegations were made. This particular claim was withdrawn on 11th March 1997, the day after an undertaking came to be given to the Divisional Court, consisting Evans LJ and Curtis J, not to allege corruption and the like against the judiciary. The letter withdrawing that action read:

“I have been advised that in the light of the present circumstances, it would be appropriate to withdraw the above writ, therefore I would be obliged if you would please take the necessary action to do so.”

18. That was sent to the Clerk of the Court.

19. Action 6 was brought on 7th October 1996 against the then Attorney-General, Sir Nicholls Lyell QC. The Statement of Claim contained the usual sort of allegations of conspiracy to cover up judicial corruption. It was struck out on 13th January 1997 by Master Hodgson and the Respondent’s appeal against that order was dismissed by Sir John Wood on 28th January 1997.

20. Action 7 was issued on 6th February 1997, again against both Mrs Scriven and Beth Wilkins. The Statement of Claim repeated all the original allegations of fraud and the like. The action was struck out on 14th April 1997. The Respondent issued further summonses in those proceedings on 12th November 1997. Two further applications by the Respondent came before Morritt J. The first application attempted to resurrect the claim; the second one attempted to have a number of solicitors and two named members of the Bar committed to prison for contempt. Both applications failed.

21. Action 8 was issued on 27th January 1998 against the Lord Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Goff of Chievely, then the Senior Law Lord. For illustrative purposes, let me quote just one paragraph of the Statement of Claim:

“All three defendants are engaged in:-

(i) Conspiracy to defraud.

(ii) Prejudice and perversion of the course of justice.

(iii) Denial of natural justice.

(iv) Denial of a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

(v) Removal of an effective national judicial remedy.

(vi) Discrimination.

(vii) Misprison of treason.

All three defendants have wilfully corrupted and conspired to destroy the country’s Appellate System; thus conspiring to destroy the public and thus also the Plaintiff.”

22. Mr Scriven is not a man who rations his allegations.

23. That action was struck out by Master Turner on 11th May 1998 and the appeal against that order was, in turn, dismissed by Moses J on 4th June 1998. In the meantime, action 9 had begun on 7th April 1998 against the Treasury Solicitor and one of his assistants. It alleged the sort of thing that one has already seen and included the allegation that the Treasury Solicitor had:

“Knowingly and wilfully conspiring with, and aiding and abetting the HIGH TREASON of:

1 The Lord Chancellor, ...

2 The Master of the Rolls ...

3 The Senior Law Lord ...”

24. That action too was dismissed by Moses J on 4th June 1998.

25. Action 10 was issued on 14th August 1998 against a Mr John McKenna (a solicitor with James Chapman & Co); Beth Wilkins; Janet Stockton, a solicitor formerly employed (apparently under a different name) by Davis Arnold Cooper; Sonia Gal (the same counsel earlier sued) and Beryl Scriven. Again, there were allegations of fraud, perjury, perverting the course of justice, conspiracy and, for good measure, the impersonation of a solicitor.

26. Action 11 was brought in the County Court. It was brought against James Chapman & Co, one of the firms of solicitors sued in the earlier proceedings, and it made the same sort of the allegations as we have repeatedly seen. It was struck out on 10th September 1999 by Judge Hughes, and for the first time in this litigation a Grepe v Loam order was made. There remains outstanding, I should record, an application by the Respondent seeking permission out of time to appeal against that particular order.

27. That really is quite a catalogue of litigation. What then does the Respondent say as to why he should not now be made the subject of a section 42 order? The great bulk of what Mr Scriven has had to say to us today has harked back, perhaps not altogether surprisingly, to his longstanding complaint that he is the victim of fraud, corruption, conspiracy and forgery. He speaks of judges renouncing their judicial oath, which he was good enough to remind us of, the breach of which is high treason. He remains, perfectly obviously, entirely obsessed with these grievances and with two matters in particular: first, the misdating of his wife’s petition and all that he says that that demonstrates; second, what he calls secret briefings, i.e. notes prepared for the court by office lawyers giving judges some broad summary of the nature and history of cases, in particular litigant in person cases which are often of some complexity and not infrequently in something of a muddle.

28. Nothing he has said to us, however, suggests to me that this great mass of litigation in which he has engaged, ruthlessly pursuing all those whom he has come to associate with his repeated failures to overturn the matrimonial orders against him, has been other than vexatious and an abuse of the court’s processes, an endless attempt to seek to relitigate his basic case. All his actions, in my judgment, have been misconceived and all must inevitably have caused no little trouble, worry and expense for the various people he has drawn into this matter, quite apart from a very great waste of the court’s time which other litigants need.

29. It is perhaps worth citing briefly from just one authority in this field: Attorney-General v Jones [1990] 1 WLR 859 and, in particular, a passage from Staughton LJ’s judgment at page 865:

“The power to restrain someone from commencing or continuing legal proceedings is no doubt a drastic restriction of his civil rights, and is still a restriction if it is subject to the grant of leave by a High Court judge. But there must come a time when it is right to exercise that power, for at least two reasons. First, the opponents who are harassed by the worry and expense of vexatious litigation are entitled to protection; secondly, the resources of the judicial system are barely sufficient to afford justice without unreasonable delay to those who do have genuine grievances, and should not be squandered on those who do not. ...”

30. This, in my judgment, is a classic case for making the order now sought. The Respondent has proved himself a growing menace for many years now and everything about his attitude and submissions to this court this morning have made it ever clearer that, unless restrained by a section 42 order, he will continue to bring vexatious actions no less enthusiastically in the future than in the past.

31. I add only this. We listened to Mr Scriven for the greater part of this morning. By 12.30 he was growing ever more declamatory and repetitive, and we indicated that we would not listen to such unhelpful argument for very much longer. Just after 1 o’clock we stopped him and said that we would hear no more. He sent out a note via my clerk, which reads:

“On a point of law, section 42 must be heard and then and there are witnesses to this statute. Please may I be allowed that which is my right.”

32. In my judgment, the Respondent has been allowed his right. This application has been heard. The courts are not required to listen to litigants, whether represented or not, for as long as they like. It is for the court to control its own process and it is well entitled to bring arguments to a close when it concludes that its process is being abused and that nothing of value will be lost by ending it.

33. For the reasons given, I would make a civil proceedings order here, as is sought, without limit of time.

34. MR PENRY-DAVEY: I agree, for the reasons that my Lord has given, this order should be made.

35. LORD JUSTICE SIMON BROWN: Mr Carr, having regard to the order we have just made, my Lord and I really do not think it appropriate at this point to carry on with the other matter, the motion to commit, at any rate today. We are, I have to say, in any event somewhat troubled by it. The whole question of scandalising the judiciary or the courts, or however it is put, is perhaps somewhat remote from present day life. The plain fact is, in my experience at least, that quite a high proportion of vexatious litigants (and there are several that I see here in court today) are not shy or sparing in their allegations of corruption and the like against Her Majesty’s judges. A wry smile is, I think, our usual response, and the more extravagant the allegations, the more ludicrous they sound. We recognise, of course, that, no doubt with that thought in mind, the Attorney-General is limiting his present allegation against the Respondent to that of breaching his undertaking to the court given on 10th March 1997 not to allege corruption and the like against the judges, and no doubt his breach of that undertaking appears quite flagrant. But the fact is that this undertaking was given, as it were, to buy off an earlier allegation of contempt in scandalising the judges and if, as we understand, the Attorney-General is not now prepared to assert that that underlying conduct constitutes a contempt, then we wonder if it is really to be thought appropriate to prosecute for breach of the undertaking. Of course, the Respondent ought properly to have sought discharge from the undertaking. He says, one notes, that it was procured by intimidation, though I find no sign of that in the transcript of that day’s hearing, but he is after all in person. Just assume we were to commit Mr Scriven to prison today for a while, then what? Out he comes and, his undertaking presumably by then being spent, is he then free to go on abusing the judges? Presumably he would be, unless, of course, the Attorney-General were to change his tack with regard to prosecuting for this form of contempt. What we, therefore, propose to do is to adjourn this present motion sine die in the first instance, to invite the Attorney-General personally to consider whether, in the light of the section 42 order that we have now made and these remarks, he wishes after all to pursue it. If he does, then we think that Mr Scriven ought to be properly represented upon it, perhaps by counsel under the Bar’s pro bono scheme. That would, therefore, be the course we propose to take. We would, I should add, unless there is anything further that you want to say, discharge the undertaking and simply adjourn the matter sine die.

36. MR CARR: My Lord, I rather anticipated that your Lordships might proceed down that route and, therefore, took the opportunity over the luncheon adjournment to take some instructions in relation to what the Attorney-General’s position would be in the event that the section 42 order was made. The position that the Attorney adopts is that, in the light of that order having been made, there is sufficient protection in the public interest in relation to Mr Scriven’s litigious activities and, as far as understanding that Mr Scriven is plainly in breach, that is simply a matter for your Lordship to deal with as you see fit and the Attorney makes no particular representations in relation to it.

37. LORD JUSTICE SIMON BROWN: Thank you, Mr Carr. Mr Scriven, I dare say you are perfectly content with that course. That is the order we make. May I, as a matter of interest, ask whether the £500 costs was ever paid?

38. MR CARR: I believe not, my Lord, but I have no application in respect of today’s costs.

39. LORD JUSTICE SIMON BROWN: Thank you very much. We shall adjourn.

40. THE APPLICANT: My Lord ----

41. LORD JUSTICE SIMON BROWN: Mr Scriven, that concludes today.

42. THE APPLICANT: May I have leave to appeal to the House of Lords?

43. LORD JUSTICE SIMON BROWN: No, and it is not to the House of Lords, it is to the Court of Appeal.

Editor’s note: Ironically - in view of the claim made in paragraph 2 of the above judgment, there appears to be an incorrect date in paragraph 5! - A Baron

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