Royal Courts of Justice


London WC2

Wednesday, 16th July 1997

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 2HD

Telephone No: 0171-831 3183/0171-404 1400

Fax No: 0171-404 1424

Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)

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MR I BURNETT (instructed by Treasury Solicitors, London SW1H 9JS) appeared on behalf of the applicant.



(As approved by the court)

Wednesday, 16th July 1997


LORD JUSTICE ROSE: Mr Justice Jowitt will give the first judgment.

MR JUSTICE JOWITT: The respondent, Mr Williamson, is an ordained priest of the Church of England which is part of the wider communion of the Anglican Church. He holds the sincerely and strongly felt belief that the law of God makes it impossible for his Church to ordain woman as priests and that the service of ordination can confer no priesthood when the ordainand is a woman. Mr Williamson is not alone in his own communion or in the wider communion of the Christian Church in holding that view.

But the Church of England is the Church as by law established and it has spoken its mind and made its decision on the subject and the decision has been promulgated in a way which the courts have recognised as being valid and binding. This has been made clear in legal proceedings which Mr Williamson has brought unsuccessfully, but he adheres to the view that the ordination of woman is not doctrinally possible.

The courts could have nothing to say about a decision to ordain woman made by other Christian denominations. That they have done so in the case of the Church of England is simply as a consequence of its establishment and the laws which govern that establishment.

The courts have not expressed any view of the doctrinal controversy. To do so would be quite outside their remit sadly what Mr Williamson has failed to appreciate is that although the fact of the establishment of the Church of England has allowed him to raise in the courts the lawfulness of the ordination of woman the courts have given their clear answer and have ruled against him. The fact that he thinks that the real issues have never been considered arises from a failure on his part to understand the legal arguments which have resolved the issue against him. Although he continues of the same mind on the doctrinal point he has reached the end of the road so far as the courts are concerned he has lost the legal battle. Unfortunately he will not accept this and the history of his litigation shows him coming back again and again to seek to re-litigate the same point.

These are the circumstances in which the Solicitor-General on behalf of the Attorney-General, seeks an order pursuant to section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 as amended precluding Mr Williamson without leave of the High Court from instituting or continuing any proceedings in any civil court or, save for application for leave under section 42, from making any application in any civil proceedings in any civil court.

Before I consider the principles of law which apply to an application such as this and apply them in the facts of this case, it is desirable that I should say a little more about the various proceedings which Mr Williamson has brought. The first was an application for leave to move for judicial review. The application turned, among other things, on whether without an Act of Parliament the Church of England could promulgate new Canons which permitted the ordination of woman to the priesthood.

Popplewell J refused leave on 21st February 1994 and on the 1st March 1994 after hearing argument at some length the Court of Appeal, Bingham MR and Evans and Rose LJJ, refused a renewed application for leave to move. Since then there have been repeated applications for leave to move for judicial review an actions brought against the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, other Bishops of the Church of England and the Church commissions all revolving, for the most part, around the same theme.

On 5th September 1996 the Court of Appeal (Simon Brown, Morritt and Philips LJJ) again considered at some length Mr Williamson’s contention that the ordination of women is contrary to the law. It considered also his contention that it is contrary to the true doctrines of the Church of England and once again found against him.

At the conclusion of his judgment Morritt LJ gave Mr Williamson this firm warning:

“We have been required to consider applications in five sets of proceedings in each of which Mr Williamson has comprehensively lost. No doubt Mr Williamson’s opposition to the ordination of woman was sincere, but he must accept the decision of the courts which have unanimously found against him over the last two years, in the many decisions to which I have referred, to the effect that he has no legal basis for his opposition. He is not, as he claimed, entitled under Magna Carta or any other legal provision to continue to occupy the time of the court in pursuit of legally hopeless claims. If he does not heed this warning he may find himself the subject of orders of the court prohibiting him from doing so in the future. It would, in my view, be a pity if someone in his position became the subject of such an order”

Simon Brown LJ also gave Mr Williamson a warning:

“Several of the judges, hitherto seized of these matters and in particular of the applicant’s sustained campaign of opposition to the ordination of woman, have referred to his having abused the processes of the court. I too regard this group of challenges, itself not an exhaustive catalogue of his proceedings, as abusive and vexatious. It would, in my judgment, be most regrettable were the applicant not now to regard this as positively his last litigious venture in this field.”

These were not the first warnings which Mr Williamson had received. It is unfortunate that he has not heeded them. In February of this year he lodged yet another application for leave to move for judicial review. The proposed respondents are the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral and the decision challenged is the appointment of an ordained woman to the post of Minor Canon of the Peoples’ Cathedral it can be seen that in his grounds he raises once again the question of whether the Church of England is at liberty to ordain women as priests. Mr Williamson has also turned his attention to the Church of Wales now that Church has approved the ordination of woman.

So far he has not met with success in any of his proceedings and the costs ordered against him amount now to a substantial sum. His means are apparently limited to his stipend as incumbent of his living. It is apparent from his affidavits in his present application and from the way he has opposed this application that for as long as he is permitted to do so Mr Williamson is intent on pursuing his course through the courts notwithstanding the clarity at which the Court of Appeal has twice spelled out to him its hopelessness in law.

He complains he has not yet had a full hearing of the point which he wishes to raise and that he is entitled to a full and fair hearing. All that has happened so far he says is that his applications for leave to move for judicial review have been refused and his actions have been struck out.

What is required by way of a full and fair hearing depends on what the court sees as the legal issues in the case. A full and fair hearing does not require the court to spend however much time either or both of the litigants consider to be required for argument on the issues raised. A case is struck out when the court, having considered points of law involved, concludes that they are not arguable and resolves them against the plaintiff or the applicant. That is what has happened in this case.

The facts are, in my judgment, so clear against Mr Williamson that I can refer quite shortly to those principles which have led me to the conclusion that he should be declared a vexatious litigant. I need only cite two passages from the judgments of Court of Appeal in the R -v- Attorney-General ex parte Jones, [1991] WLR 859. The first is from the judgment of Lord Donaldson MR at page 862H:

“ ... it follows that it is both permissable and necessary to have regard to [section 42s] purpose--to the mischief at which it is directed. This is that the compulsive 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 should be restained 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.”

At page 865 B Staughton LJ said:

“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.”

It may be that the respondents and defendants to Mr Williamson’s proceedings suffer frustration rather than worry but that in my view does not help. He inflicts on others costs which they have to bear now, but which if ever they do recoup them they will do so only in instalments stretching into the distant future.

Further, and I regard these factors as being of importance,

1. Mr Williamson’s vexatious litigation delays the access of others to the courts and the courts are entitled to protect their procedures from abuse by the persistent and vexatious litigant.

2. Mr Williamson argues that he has had in truth only one action because the other proceedings he has brought had been in order to deal with the matter temporarily, if I may put it in that way, until his action has been heard. That is not correct. He has brought a series of proceedings and it is, as I have said already, no answer to the vexatious nature that they bear to say that they have not resulted in the grant of leave or in any final hearing.

3. The burden of proof resting upon the Solicitor-General is not a light one. I bear in mind too that the court has a discretion whether, even though a case may be made out, the order should be made or not.

I have listened to Mr Williamson’s submissions which he has put before the court succinctly and with moderation and courtesy. I am very conscious of the fact that he pursues the course he has because he feels in conscience and in loyalty to his Church, of which he is a member, that that is his duty. He tells us, and I accept this, it is not his intention to vex anyone but the question of whether the litigant has shown himself to be vexatious has to be looked at objectively.

I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that he has shown himself to be vexatious. He has habitually and persistently and despite the courts having ruled against him continued without any reasonable grounds continued with his litigation. I would, for my part, make an order against him in the terms set out in the Notice of Motion.

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: I agree. Mr Williamson has addressed this court succinctly and courteously but when all the material before this court is examined I, like my Lord, have no hesitation in concluding that he has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted vexatious civil proceedings and that in all the circumstances of this case it is appropriate for the discretion of the court to be exercised in favour of making a civil proceedings order under section 42 of the 1981 Act.

Accordingly, such an order will be made in the terms of the Notice of Motion.

MR WILLIAMSON: Your Lordship, if I may crave your indulgence would you be so kind to note in my judgment my initial objection which you kindly said you recorded on the time limits?

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: That is being expected to complete your submissions in about an hour and a quarter.

MR WILLIAMSON: I had notified the court that I expected to speak for a day or more.

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: Yes, that will now be noted because the shorthand writer is present.

MR WILLIAMSON: And your Lordship I note the total absence of reference to the Coronation Oath in your judgment.

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: I have nothing to add to the terms of my judgment and I do not anticipate that my Lord has.

MR WILLIAMSON: Your Lordship, may I then please have leave to appeal?

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: No, Mr Williamson.

MR WILLIAMSON: Your Lordship, may then please order that the two cases I have in hand one about an act of Parliament and one about a Royal Charter will proceed.

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: No. We make no such order.

MR WILLIAMSON: Your Lordship, then may I please progress my motion to Europe with your permission?

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: What you do in relation to Europe, Mr Williamson, is entirely a matter for you.

MR WILLIAMSON: Your Lordship, may I have two/three copies of the transcript of your judgment so that I may proceed to appeal?

LORD JUSTICE ROSE: There will certainly be a transcript available. Mr Williamson, mindful as we are of your status as Minister of the Church we shall in this case order that you be provided with a free copy of the transcript of the judgments.

MR WILLIAMSON: Your Lordships are most gracious. I would not wish you to wish that I was contumacious in any way, I am very put out that your Lordships have not examined the merits which I presented to you on the Coronation Oath and because of that, your Lordships, and you are not unexpected in this I am sure, I do intend to appeal.

It is no reflection upon your Lordships’ courtesy and kindness to me. I do not believe I have had a full and fair hearing on the Coronation Oath and the merits have not been dealt with and that is reflected in your Lordships’ judgment. I pray your forgiveness and I commit my cause to our Lord, the saviour Jesus Christ, I shall pursue it with every fibre of my being while there is mortal breath in this body. Forgive me


[In April 2014, the above was reformated; the original (as received by me from Terry Ewing in WORD format and published here) can be found at this Internet Archive link].

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