IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICECO 751-96
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Royal Courts of Justice
29th January, 1997
B e f o r e:
LORD JUSTICE McCOWAN
MR JUSTICE LATHAM
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IN THE MATTER OF:
THE SUPREME COURT ACT 1981 AS AMENDED BY
SECTION 24 OF THE PROSECUTION OF OFFENCES
IN THE MATTER OF:
ALAN CHRISTOPHER SPENCER WARD
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(Computer-aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of
Smith Bernal Reporting Limited
180 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2HD
Telephone No: 0171-831 3183/0171-404 1400
Fax No: 0171-404 1424
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
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The Applicant appeared in person (absent during judgment).
MR IAN BURNETT (instructed by The Treasury Solicitors, London SW1H 9JS) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.
J U D G M E N T
J U D G M E N T
LORD JUSTICE McCOWAN: I will ask Mr Justice Latham to give the first judgment.
J U D G M E N T
MR JUSTICE LATHAM: This is an application by her Majesty's Attorney-General for an order against the respondent, Alan Christopher Spencer Ward pursuant to the Powers of the Court under section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981, that firstly no civil proceedings should without leave of the High Court be instituted by the respondent in court; secondly any civil proceedings instituted by the respondent in any court before the making of an order should not be continued by the respondent without the leave of the High Court; and thirdly that no application other than an application for leave under section 42 should without leave of the High Court be made by the respondent in a civil proceedings instituted whether by him or another in any court. The power of the court that I have referred to reads as follows:
"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 again the same person or against different persons; or
(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, a criminal proceedings order or an all proceedings order."
A civil proceedings order is defined in terms in which the claim made against the respondent in this application are mirrored and it is therefore a civil proceedings order which the Attorney-General seeks in respect of this respondent today.
In such an application the Attorney-General has to establish that the respondent has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable cause instituted vexatious civil proceedings or made vexatious applications in civil proceedings, and in this case the Attorney-General seeks to do so by reference to 19 separate proceedings which have been commenced between 1990 and 1996. In two of those proceedings the respondent was the defendant, defending claims for possession brought against him by respectively his then landlord and landlady. In all the other proceedings he has been the plaintiff.
Out of the 17 proceedings in which he has been the plaintiff the proceedings have been struck out as frivolous, vexatious or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court in 15. We have considered the history of each of those proceedings and I shall deal with them in a little detail later in the judgment. The principles of law which we have to apply are clear. The first is that before we can make an order we must be satisfied that the requirements of the section have been met to the civil standard of proof having regard to the seriousness of issue at stake, namely the fact that an order will deprive the respondent of his present absolute and unfettered entitlement to access to the court in order to pursue what he perceives to be his rights as a citizen. Second we must have regard to the mischief at which the section is directed. In the Attorney-General v. Jones  1WLR 859 at page 862. Lord Donaldson MR said this:
"This (the mischief) is that the compulsory authority of the State vested in the courts and the judiciary shall not be invoked without reasonable cause to the detriment of other citizens and that, where someone takes this course habitually and persistently, that person shall be restrained from continuing to do so, but shall nevertheless be as free as any other citizen to use those processes if he has reasonable cause for so doing."
Staughton LJ said in the same case at page 865 letter B:
"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."
Third, we must conscientiously apply the section and give proper effect to the phases 'habitually and persistently' and 'without any reasonable ground' and the word 'vexatious'. The phrase 'habitually and persistently' does not require further elaboration. The phrase 'without any reasonable grounds' must be read together with the word 'vexatious', which directs attention to the manner in which proceedings are conducted and their effect on the other party or parties as well as to the apparent merits of the proceedings themselves. In particular it should be noted that the phrase is 'without any reasonable grounds' not 'without any grounds'. It is clear therefore that the proceedings or applications which cause offence or aggravation can still form the factual basis for an order under section 42 even if the respondent could mount a technical justification for each of them. As Morison J in Attorney-General v Persaud (a transcript of the judgment given 22nd February 1966 has been cited in part to us) said:
"Thus, pursuing trivial and hopeless actions in an oppressive manner will be capable of falling within the section even if on their face the proceedings appear to present recognisable causes of action."
Where there is no recognisable cause of action or justification for an application the argument that the respondent has acted vexatiously and without any reasonable cause is likely to be unanswerable. In considering the proceedings or applications upon which the Attorney-General seeks to rely, any decision by a court that those proceedings or applications were frivolous, vexatious or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court cannot be challenged. That was made clear by Lord Donaldson MR in Attorney-General v Jones, which I have already cited at page 163 letter D.
With those preliminary remarks as to the approach this court should adopt I turn to look at the individual actions which form the basis of the proceedings which have been brought before us. As I have indicated, they number 19. The first of the actions which is relied upon by the Attorney-General is the action for possession which was brought against the respondent by his then landlord, a Mr Volak, in October 1990. In the course of those proceedings it is clear that the respondent sought to argue that he had an entitlement as a tenant which was rejected by the judge, his Honour Judge Leo Clark QC, and an order for possession was made by the district judge on 19th October 1990, which was thereafter the subject of an application to stay by the respondent on 29th October 1990 which was also rejected. An appeal was made to the Court of Appeal of 25th October 1990, as to which we have no details in the papers before us save that on 5th November 1990 the Court of Appeal refused a stay of execution from the circuit judge's order. In other words the respondent was required to vacate the premises.
The only other document in the file which helps to determine what happened in those proceedings suggests that the respondent made some sort of application to the circuit judge in April 1993, which was dismissed, but the nature of that application cannot be gleaned from the papers which we have.
That was the start of the story of litigation which is relied upon by the Attorney-General, and clearly in itself does not disclose any elements which could be described as vexatious, save in so far as it could be said that he pursued applications for a stay of execution and by way of appeal when those applications were hopeless; but it is clear from all the documents that we have that the respondent was seriously aggrieved with the way in which the circuit judge dealt with the case and the way in which the Court of Appeal dealt with the case, and it may be that to some degree his grievances in that respect affected what happened thereafter.
The second action was an action in which he was the plaintiff and was against his then landlady, a Mrs Loveridge. It was a summons by him based upon an allegation of wrongful eviction, and what he described as "a breach of assurance" with a claim for damages of over £500. The action was commenced in September 1991. The claim was struck out by District Judge Barrington-Ward on 17th January 1992. By consent the action was reinstated and the respondent's appeal against that order was allowed in April 1992 but then subsequently the action was finally struck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action on 22nd March 1993.
Meanwhile action no. 3 had commenced. That was a summons in which the respondent again sued Mrs Loveridge this time for malicious falsehood and deceit, damages were limited to £5,000. The summons was dated 19th September 1991 and followed immediately the service of the defence in the previous action. The malicious falsehood and deceit which was alleged was the factual basis of Mrs Loveridge's defence to the previous action set out in her defence. In other words he was asserting that Mrs Loveridge was lying in those proceedings. Not surprisingly that claim was ultimately struck out as not properly pleaded and as an abuse of the process of the court on 23rd March 1992.
In the same month, that is September 1991, action no. 4 was commenced. That was an action against the Lord Chancellor's Department for negligence. It was in relation to an allegation that the Lord Chancellor's Department had failed to submit the relevant papers to the Court of Appeal in action no. 1. It also claimed damages for what was described as the negligence of the judge, that is his Honour Judge Leo Clark QC in his judgment. Not surprisingly that action was struck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action on 24th March 1992.
Action no. 5 was commenced in January 1992 and it was an action brought by the respondent against the landlady who had the misfortune to have allowed him into occupation of that premises before he went to live in Mr Volak's premises. The summons was based on an allegation of wrongful eviction and breach of an agreement in February 1990 and damages were claimed of £5,000. That action was struck out as frivolous vexatious or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court on 10th May 1992.
Then in August 1992 Mrs Loveridge (with whom the respondent it will be remembered was already in litigation in relation to actions nos 2 and 3) issued a summons for possession on 24th August 1992. The matter came before his Honour Judge Irvine; and on 14th December 1992 he made an order for possession. He disbelieved the respondent's evidence in forthright terms. It is clear from material before us that in the course of those proceedings the respondent sought to allege that Mrs Loveridge had pursued some sort of vendetta against him using witchcraft, and he asserted that there were 16 occasions on which witchcraft had been practised against him. That was not a matter which endeared itself to His Honour Judge Irvine and there is no doubt His Honour Judge Irvine's robust refusal to allow that matter to be pursued caused the respondent grave offence; and running through documents after December 1992 are complaints about the way in which His Honour Judge Irvine dealt with the case.
Thereafter these proceedings were protracted by a number of applications by the respondent. There were applications for a stay of possession, an application for leave to appeal and a further application for a stay of possession. He went to the Court of Appeal and applied for leave to appeal. That application was refused in February 1993. The respondent did not give up and applied for a retrial of the case. His Honour Judge Irvine refused that application and there were further applications thereafter in an attempt to re-open the matter, which were dismissed.
Meanwhile the respondent had started what turned out to be a series of proceedings involving claims against the Church. The 7th action was commenced in November 1992 and was based upon general allegations of incompetence against the Church of England and the Diocese of Oxford, the underlying complaint being that he wished to be a lay reader but that he was being refused even an interview which would be the first stage of his being accepted in that capacity. The claim was struck out on 14th May 1993.
In December 1992 he commenced the 8th action which was against the trustees of the estate of a Mrs Jackson. That seemed, or might have seemed, to have been an action by itself because in it he was asserting that the trustees were failing to carry out the purposes of the trust which was apparently to provide payments to poor inhabitants in an area of Oxford known as The Quarry. However from material which we have heard today, it would appear as though that was connected with his complaints against the Church because it would appear as though the Church was certainly involved either as trustees or in some other way as administrators of that estate. Those proceedings were stuck out as disclosing no cause of action on 16th April 1993.
The Attorney-General has referred us to what is described as action no. 9, an action by the respondent against a Mr Williams and Patricia Lee. The Attorney was not able to identify the nature of those proceedings but again from what we have been told today it would appear as though that was an allegation of assault and related to a time when Mrs Loveridge was seeking to obtain possession of her premises. One assumes therefore that Mr Williams and Patricia Lee may have been friends of Mrs Loveridge. Mrs Loveridge was unhappily the defendant in the tenth action, which was described as an action of private nuisance for the payment of a bill of costs of £50 and costs of £10. That was struck out on 24th August 1993. The 11th action was brought by the respondent against the Lord Bishop of Oxford. That was on its face a claim for negligence and damages limited to £500. Effectively it was an attempt by the respondent to raise once again the fact that he had not been permitted an interview to be a lay reader. Essentially he was asserting that there was unfairness to him as a result. That summons included a number of complaints against the judges at Oxford and Reading, to the effect that he could obtain no justice from them. The action was struck out as an abuse of process of the court by the District Judge on 8th September 1994 and his appeal against that order was dismissed on 4th December 1995.
The 12th action had essentially as its subject matter the same as action 11. It was an action by the respondent against Father Michael Brewin, who, he said, had refused him an interview to be a lay reader. That action was commenced in August 1994 at or about the same time therefore as action no. 11. The claim was struck out as disclosing no cause of action on 24th November 1994.
The respondent was not content with his complaints against the Diocese and against the Bishop and the priest whom he had identified in action no. 12. In action no. 13 he raised the same issue in an action brought against the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. That action, which again was based upon his complaint that he had not been given an interview as a lay reader, included in it allegations about Mrs Loveridge who was no party to the proceedings at all, asserting that she was a witch, part of the complaint being that despite the fear that she was a witch she was permitted to take communion. That action was stuck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action in November 1994, and an application for leave to appeal against that order was dismissed on 24th July 1995.
In May 1995 the respondent commenced an action of a different nature against the 3M Netball Club. In that he claimed damages for what was described as negligence. In fact what he was complaining about there was that he had been dismissed as the netball coach of that club without, he said, having had any hearing. The complaint related to matters which had occurred as long ago as October 1987. And after other interlocutory skirmishes the action was struck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action on 22nd August 1995 and an appeal against that order was dismissed by his Honour Judge Brunning on 22nd September 1995. It should be noted that in those proceedings the applicant disclosed in an affidavit that he had previously been known as Alan Ford.
The 15th action was brought by the respondent on 5th June 1995 against another priest, The Reverend Martin Gilham, again raising his complaint about the fact that he had not been offered an interview for his application to become a lay reader. The action was struck out on 20th October 1995 and finally laid to rest when his application for leave to appeal out of time was dismissed on 17th January 1996.
In action no. 16 the respondent issued a summons against Christ Church College, Oxford. He claimed damages of £100 for what was described as "a negligent interview". It was described more colourfully in the particulars as "a hatchet interview" when he applied for a place to read theology. He complained about the unfairness of the way that he was treated at the interview. That claim was struck out and eventually the respondent's application for leave to appeal against the strike-out out of time was dismissed on 15th December 1995.
In action no. 17, the respondent turned his attention back to the Lord Chancellor's Department. It was an action for negligent listing of a court case and he claimed £100. He was asserting that a claim of his was simply not listed. The action was struck out on 23rd January 1996.
Those were the original 17 actions upon which the Attorney-General sought to rely.
Subsequently two further actions came to the attention of the Attorney-General, making a total of 19 actions to which I have referred. The first of those two actions was an action brought by the respondent against the Court Service Agency of 6th November 1996 and it may be instructive just to note the particulars of the plaintiff's claim as set out on the front of the summons. After stating that the claim was for the "Negligence of judges, court staff, courts' complaint officer" the claim was put in these terms:
"16 out of 24 District Judges are poor to very poor to appalling. 4 out of 8 Lords Justices are poor to very poor. The Court Staff in the High Court are very poor to appalling. The Court Complaints' Officer is somnambulant brain dead..."
And then there are some words which I am afraid I cannot quite decipher. That action, not surprisingly, is one in which the defendant has issued a summons asking that the action be struck out disclosing no cause of action.
The final action which is relied upon by the Attorney-General is interesting in a historical sense because it may provide a clue to the genesis of all the problems which have clearly beset this respondent over the last ten years or so. It is an action bought in the name of Alan Geoffrey Stanford. It is against the Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police, and the claim is for negligent inactivity by the defendant. The claim is based upon what happened to the respondent in 1985. It appears that he was at the time living with his mother and some incident took place, as a result of which his mother suffered some injury. The police were called by him in the first instance, in order to report the matter; but he asserts that after he had first reported the matter other police officers became involved, as a result of which he was arrested for an assault on his mother. He was held in custody. The result of that, he says, is that he lost his home and he lost his business. Before us today it seemed that he was putting the start of all his problems at the door of what happened to him at the hands of the Derbyshire Police at that time.
We understand, although it is not deposed to in any affidavit, that that particular action has been struck out as disclosing no reasonable course of action in the last few days.
It seems to me, applying the test that I have indicated is the appropriate test at the beginning of this judgment, that the facts that I have related really permit of only one answer. There is no doubt that he habitually and persistently indulged in litigation. It seems to me that even if there were any proper reasons for his feeling aggrieved by the way in which he was treated by the people against whom he has brought these actions, the way he has pursued them has been vexatious and without any reasonable cause.
He frankly admitted to us when he addressed us that although he did not want to hurt the people against whom he was making allegations, he wanted them to understand that they had hurt him. The basic underlying grievance that he has is that people have behaved to him in a way which has deprived him time and time again of an opportunity, as he would consider it, to put his case in any situation fully and fairly. That is his complaint against the court processes that he has complained about; that is his complaint against the Church, namely that he was not given an opportunity, as he would say, for an interview; that is his complaint against the netball team, that he was dismissed without the opportunity of giving his side of the case. And this is his complaint against Christ Church.
Those grievances are obviously deeply felt by the respondent. But nothing that he has said persuades me that he had any justification for the way he has pursued litigation, either as plaintiff or by way of applications when he has been defendant. I see no reason why this court should not exercise its discretion having concluded that what he has done falls within the terms of the Act, to make the order which is asked by the Attorney-General in this case. I would therefore make the order as asked in the notice of motion.
LORD JUSTICE McCOWAN: I agree with the order proposed by my Lord and the reasons given by him. I would add this that the order against him shall be in the names of Alan Christopher Spencer Ward, also known as Alan Geoffrey Stanford and Alan Ward. Is that right, Mr Burnett?
MR BURNETT: My Lord, yes.
LORD JUSTICE McCOWAN: Also known in those names.
MR BURNETT: My Lord, there are no ancillary applications.
LORD JUSTICE McCOWAN: Thank you very much.
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