Vexatious Litigants and the Law

Just as there are alcoholics and uncontrolled gamblers, there are those who litigate because they have a similar addiction.
Like all addictions, it is harmful, destructive and all-consuming and the adverse impact is not only upon the sufferer but also upon those around them. Vexatious litigants are relatively few in number but, given their propensity to litigate without restraint against all visible targets in hopeless cases, they have a disproportionate effect upon the justice system as well as those against whom they direct their litigious activities.
The law’s answer is civil restraint orders (CROs), which prohibit individuals from issuing claims or making applications without the permission of the court. There are three broad categories of CRO: the basic CRO restrains the making of any further application only in the proceedings in which it is made; an extended CRO imposes restraint upon the issue of claims or the making of applications in specified courts “concerning any matter involving or relating to or touching upon or leading to the proceedings in which the order is made.”
Both are therefore limited to specific proceedings or a set of facts giving rise to them. The king of all CROs is a general civil restraint order which restricts the issuing of claims or the making of applications in any courts, or in specified courts, in any form of proceedings. It is made “where the party against whom the order is made persists in issuing claims or making applications which are totally without merit, in circumstances where an extended civil restraint order would not be sufficient or appropriate.”
The effect is to require anyone who wishes to issue proceedings to seek the permission of the court before doing so. An order can last for a maximum of two years and then has to be extended, or it lapses. A list of those currently subject to a general civil restraint order can be seen here.
Where a party who is subject to a general civil restraint order issues a claim or makes an application in a court identified in the order without first obtaining the permission of a judge identified in the order, the claim or application will automatically be struck out or dismissed, without the need for the other party to respond to it. This is important, because the costs of defending even wholly unmeritorious cases can still be substantial and vexatious litigants tend not to be wealthy and thus able to pay your costs at the end of the case. Litigation has already cost them a fortune. That’s why they’re doing what they are.
An example of such an order being extended is provided by the case of Ms Anal Sheikh. The background facts are set out in the judgment, and essentially flowed from a modest land transaction in which Ms Sheikh, then a solicitor, advanced money to her client. A dispute ensued which mushroomed out of all control, leading to litigation initiated by Ms Sheikh against both lawyers who had acted against her and judges who had found against her. In his judgment extending the order for a further two years, Turner J states: “I am in no doubt that the stress of the [unsuccessful] litigation combined with its financially catastrophic outcome has had the profoundest impact upon Miss Sheikh. It is to her credit that, notwithstanding the depth of her feelings, she was able to articulate her case to me with all due courtesy and presentational restraint. Unhappily, however, the substance of her allegations in this case are characterised by a complete failure of objectivity. She continues to assert that Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Sir Terence Etherton MR, Henderson LJ and Briggs LJ conspired together to steal her title to the development site and then shared between them the profit of £64,000,000. She further accuses them of torturing and unlawfully killing her mother.
There is something almost poignant in the absurdity of these allegations based, as they are, upon no discernible evidence. At one point, Miss Sheikh submitted to me that the fraud was “too clever to be seen.” She does not, however, entertain the rather more mundane possibility that the reason it cannot be seen is because it does not exist.” He continued: “In order to rationalise her conclusion that virtually every judge who has made a finding adverse to her and virtually every counsel who has represented the interests of those whom she opposes is part of a vast conspiracy of fraud, she has convinced herself that the United Kingdom is governed by a malevolent juristic, the corrupting influence of which permeates through and contaminates other institutions including, but by no means limited to, the Land Registry and the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority. In this regard, Miss Sheikh’s presentation fits precisely the all too familiar template of the obsessive litigant.”

If you are seeking further information or advice about any of the above, please contact John on 01207654365.

Disclaimer: This briefing is for guidance purposes only. We accept no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client’s own particular circumstances.

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