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England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions


You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions >> Douglas v HM Attorney-General & Ors [2015] EWHC 4109 (Admin) (15 December 2015)
URL: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/4109.html
Cite as: [2015] EWHC 4109 (Admin)

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Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWHC 4109 (Admin)
CO/3909/2015

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
DIVISIONAL COURT

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand
London WC2A 2LL

15 December 2015

B e f o r e :

LORD JUSTICE ELIAS
MRS JUSTICE CARR DBE

____________________

Between:
PAULA MAY GLADYS DOUGLAS Applicant/Claimant
v
HM ATTORNEY-GENERAL and others Respondents/Defendants

____________________

Computer-Aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of
WordWave International Limited
Trading as DTI Global
165 Fleet Street London EC4A 2DY
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)

____________________

The Applicant/Claimant appeared in person
Miss Camilla Chorfi (instructed by the Government Legal Department) appeared on behalf of the Respondents/Defendants

____________________

HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
____________________

Crown Copyright ©

  1. MRS JUSTICE CARR DBE:
  2. introduction
  3. On 8 May 2006 the Applicant was declared a vexatious litigant pursuant to section 42 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (now the Senior Courts Act 1981)("the Act")("the Order"). By an application dated 6 July 2015, and pursuant to leave granted by Edis J on 14 July 2015, she now seeks discharge of the Order. Permission to pursue various applications for declarations or damages as set out in that application was refused. The Applicant has not sought to revive any such further applications today.
  4. background
  5. The background history can be summarised as follows : between 1997 and 2000 the Applicant commenced forty-two sets of proceedings, including County Court actions, Employment Tribunal claims and applications to apply for judicial review against, amongst other institutions, the Law Society, the College of Law and her former employers at Stockport National Health Service Trust.
  6. In 2001, on application by the Attorney-General under Section 42 of the Act, the Applicant was found to be a vexatious litigant. However the application was adjourned for twelve months in order to assess the Applicant's willingness to refrain from further application or action (see Attorney General v Douglas (No 1) [2001] EWHC Admin 610). The judgment there sets out usefully the full background to the Applicant's past and her activities, which background it is not necessary for me to repeat on this occasion.
  7. On this adjournment the Applicant indeed desisted in issuing proceedings for the prescribed year (save for one instance where she felt constrained to issue for limitation reasons). In due course the Attorney-General consented to the dismissal of the application against her.
  8. However five weeks after such dismissal the Applicant commenced some twenty-eight further sets of proceedings. The Attorney-General duly issued a further application against her which, in due course, led to the Order. I have read the judgment of Maurice Kay J (as he then was) on the making of the Order (see Attorney General v Douglas (No 2) [2006] EWHC 1982 Admin). The Applicant sought unsuccessfully to appeal the Order.
  9. Grounds of Application
  10. The Applicant, who represents herself and who has addressed the Court fully both orally and on paper, relies on her two witness statements. She states that she regrets her past litigious behaviour and offers her sincerest remorse. She is currently 53 years of age, and has a university honours law degree, something for which she is of course to be commended. She has, in the summer of this year, become a newly qualified Further Education (Law) teacher and an A1 assessor of Vocational Training Awards. These are again impressive achievements. She now wishes to undertake an LLM at Chester University or a GDL at the University of Law. She wishes to join Lincoln's Inn and become a barrister. She tells the Court that she is a renewed Christian and no longer has the same drive to litigate. She says that her pre-2007 litigation was misconceived since at that time she thought that she was being discriminated against for dyslexia and dyspraxia which, in fact, in 2007 she learned she did not suffer from.
  11. The Applicant's evidence is that the order is, for her, a punitive, humiliating and restrictive measure on her prospects of becoming a lawyer. It would be an embarrassment to her and any employer institution. She is concerned that it may lead to disciplinary proceedings and/or dismissal if any of her students and colleagues were to learn of the publication of her name, for example, on the HMCTS website.
  12. Noteworthy from her evidence is the fact that the Applicant appears to continue to take issue with a number of decisions or conduct on the part of those whom she sued repeatedly in the past. In particular, by way of example only, in very recent documentation she submits: (a) that HMCTS is breaching data protection and her human rights by publishing her name on the website; (b) that Manchester Metropolitan University's statement that she is not suitable for social work due to the imposition of the Order is injurious to her reputation and feelings and is a false statement; (c) a complaint in relation to Lincoln's Inn's letter of 21 January 2009 which, on her case, wrongfully refused her admission. This refusal (she says) has caused her to experience losses in not having a career at the Bar.
  13. The Applicant has expanded on those written matters in her oral submissions today. She tells of the difficulty that she has experienced in qualifying abroad because of the existence of the order. She says that she had to seek to litigate in Northern Ireland because the Respondent would not consent to the discharge of the Order. She refers to Ewing v Times Newspaper Ltd [2010] NIQB 7). She says that nine years is a long time. In 2006 Rix LJ thought that she should have another chance at some stage. She suggests that her recent litigious activity is not litigation as such, it is merely re-litigation in an attempt to challenge the Order. She acknowledges again that she was wrong previously and that she is now simply trying to develop herself professionally. She says that it is time to put the Order and her past activities behind her and for her to have another chance.
  14. The Applicant refers to the case of Dr Goldstein, a member of Lincoln's Inn, who was not disbarred or removed from the Inn despite having an order under section 42 of the Act against him. She says that he was treated differently as a white man in contrast to the way she has been treated, being a Caribbean lady. I comment here that that can only be a complaint against Lincoln's Inn and can have nothing to do with the Order. But, in any event, it is clear from the ruling from Lincoln's Inn that Dr Goldstein would, in fact, have been treated in exactly the same way as the applicant was, had he been applying for admission to the Inn.
  15. In conclusion, the Applicant says that the Order should be set aside. She offers a number of alternatives, including that effectively that the application should be adjourned for a year with a view to her activities being monitored. She suggests that she could be made the subject of an undertaking, as was the case in CPE Board v Sally Mealing McLeod [2000] All ER (D) 588. She says that this is a rehabilitation opportunity for her and she invites the Court to be merciful.
  16. The Applicant's recent litigious activities
  17. The finding that the Applicant was a vexatious litigant is supported by and reflected in the Applicant's most recent activities. Thus :
  18. (a) in 2009 she made an application to HHJ Pelling QC in Manchester to have the Order set aside. The Judge dismissed that application and also refused permission to the Applicant to bring judicial review proceedings against Manchester Metropolitan University;

    (b) in 2010 Mitting J dismissed an application by the applicant for permission to sue the Manchester Metropolitan University again but this time also the General Social Care Council, again Stockport National Health Service Trust and also the Ministry of Justice and a Karen Jones variously under the Care Standards Act 2000, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982;

    (c) in 2013 Turner J refused permission to the applicant to commence judicial review proceedings again against Manchester Metropolitan University and again the Ministry of Justice. He remarked that the application bore all the hallmarks of the type of obsessive claims - most of which had no discernible basis in law - which resulted in the making of the Order in the first place. He had no hesitation in concluding that this was just the sort of ill-judged litigation which the Order was calculated to address. I remind myself of the Applicant's submission today that all of this recent litigation has only ever been about the Order itself. But it is quite clear that the claim against, for example, the Manchester Metropolitan University or the Ministry of Justice could never lead to a setting aside of the Order;

  19. d) following the judgment of Turner J the Applicant then sought remedies elsewhere abroad. In the same year she issued six civil bills against ten defendants and two tribunal cases in Northern Ireland. Between August and October 2013 she sought quashing orders, declaratory or injunctive relief against HMCTS, the Respondent, the Ministry of Justice, the Lord Chief Justice, the Bar Standards Board, Lincoln's Inn and the Honourable Society of the Northern Ireland Court. There were proceedings in Belfast. The applicant discontinued some of the actions on adverse terms as to costs. It appears that she also issued proceedings in Scotland. In January 2014, another summons was issued against Lincoln's Inn in the High Court of Northern Ireland. The Applicant makes the point that there have been no substantive rulings on any of these most recent claims. Rather they have been discontinued. This does not appear to be wholly factually correct on the material before me. But, in any event, the claims provide compelling evidence of the Applicant's continued desire to litigate on, at best, speculative claims against the same or similar bodies.
  20. discussion
  21. The Court's task is not to revisit the making of the Order in the first place but rather to determine whether circumstances exist which make it right now to vary or discharge the Order. The purpose of a declaration under Section 42 of the Act is to prevent a person from bringing vexatious proceedings. Such declarations remain in force indefinitely unless a duration period is specified. Persons who would be put to the inconvenience of defending proceedings if the order were not effective should not be put in a position where, because of the expiry of the specified period, they are exposed to unjustified proceedings (see in particular the judgment of Lord Woolf in Attorney General v Covey [2001] EWCA Civ 254, at paragraph 64).
  22. This Court undoubtedly has a jurisdiction to vary the Order but it is usually one exercised only in the light of entirely new circumstances. Thus, in Re Baggaley [2015] EWHC 1497 (Fam), the applicant was free to apply for variation or discharge if, but only if, he could demonstrate that there had been a material change in circumstances - for example, if he could demonstrate that he had achieved a proper understanding of the unacceptable nature of his conduct.
  23. None of the matters raised now by the Applicant as grounds for discharging the Order remove the harm which the Order was designed to prevent. That the Applicant has been or will be prejudiced inevitably by its existence does not mean that the rationale for its imposition has disappeared. The prejudice is always something carefully to be borne in mind, and I have. But the Applicant has always known the risks that she was running by commencing repeat speculative claims, including in particular when she re-offended after the end of the adjournment in 2001. She has ignored multiple warnings in the past and continued to litigate unreasonably. She has had her chances but she has not used them to date.
  24. Thus, contrary to her implicit submissions, it appears likely that, unrestrained, she will pursue further vexatious proceedings. The hallmark of "vexatious" is of course a claim with little or no basis in law - or at least no discernible basis. Whatever the intention of the vexatious proceedings, their effect is to subject the defendant to inconvenience, harassment and expense out of all proportion to any gain likely to accrue to the claimant. They involve an abuse of the process of the court, meaning (by that) a use of the court process for a purpose or in a manner which is significantly different from the ordinary and proper use of the court process (see Attorney General v Barker [2000] 1 FLR 759).
  25. The Applicant's recent attempts at litigation, right up to last year, demonstrate that her propensity for vexatious litigation remains. I am thus not satisfied that there is a sufficiently clear material change of circumstance, let alone a whole new set of circumstances, to justify discharge or variation of the Order. The Applicant's recent behaviour is at odds with any proper understanding of the nature of her conduct. She is someone who has given assurances of good intention to mend her ways before, which assurances she has nevertheless gone on to break. Even this application had elements of vexatiousness - namely, her claims for a declaration that the Court should tell Lincoln's Inn and Manchester Metropolitan University that she has human rights - and her application for permission to apply for summary judgment for damages against those two institutions.
  26. Thus, it is both necessary and proper to maintain the Order.
  27. Whilst in no way encouraging the Applicant, it should be remembered that under the Order she can still seek permission from a High Court judge to commence any proper claim. The Order is not an absolute bar. It may even be seen as protection for the Applicant - I refer to the adverse costs order made against her recently.
  28. Given the background as I have summarised it, I cannot identify any just basis for an adjournment of this application. Nor do I consider that the justice of the case would be met by the imposition of conditions or some form of unspecified undertaking.
  29. Thus, for all these reasons, I dismiss the application.
  30. As before, it remains open to the Applicant one day - if the appropriate circumstances exist - to apply again for discharge of the Order. That would be an application carefully to be considered before being made and one that would need to be fully justified on the merits. It is impossible for me to prognose what lies ahead for the Applicant. But if, for example, she ceased from any form of unreasonable litigious activity for perhaps a period of some two or three years, she might be in a position to consider renewing the application that I consider that the Court must currently dismiss.
  31. LORD JUSTICE ELIAS: I agree. Miss Douglas, I am sorry we found against you. We do wish you well in the future. You plainly have done very well.
  32. THE CLAIMANT: Excuse me, sorry, what did you say, Judge?
  33. LORD JUSTICE ELIAS: I said we are sorry that we have not been able to find in your favour but you have had the reasons.
  34. THE CLAIMANT: Can I comment on what Mrs Justice Carr said about two to three years or something in her judgment? I didn't quite catch that. Are you saying, Mrs Justice Carr, you would advise that I could apply - re-apply - to the court in two or three years?
  35. LORD JUSTICE ELIAS: No. You can re-apply when you like. We are indicating that we do not think you have any prospect at all any earlier than that. Whether you would succeed at that stage may well depend on what happens between now and then. But there would be - - - - -
  36. THE CLAIMANT: I find that very incredible.
  37. LORD JUSTICE ELIAS: I am sorry about that but that is our judgment.
  38. THE CLAIMANT: Can I get a copy of the judgment?
  39. LORD JUSTICE ELIAS: Yes, you will in due course.
  40. THE CLAIMANT: Thank you very much.
  41. LORD JUSTICE ELIAS: Thank you very much for your help.
  42. MISS CHORFI: Thank you.


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URL: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/4109.html