The Court of Appeal (Baker, Simler and Popplewell LJJ) has today handed down an important judgment on the effect of a Civil Proceedings Order (“CPO”) made against a vexatious litigant pursuant to section 42 Senior Courts Act 1981 (“SCA 1981”). The Court of Appeal held that a claim presented by an individual subject to a CPO, without the necessary prior permission of the High Court, is a nullity (upholding the previous decisions of the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal).
Simler LJ gave the leading judgment, with which Baker and Popplewell LJJ agreed. A link to the Court of Appeal judgment is here.
Background to the appeal
Section 42(1) SCA 1981 gives the High Court the power to make a CPO. Section 42(1A) defines a CPO as an order that “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…”
The Appellant, The Reverend Paul Williamson, was made the subject of a CPO in 1997. In 2019, the Appellant purported to present an Employment Tribunal claim for age discrimination against the Bishop of London and others without first obtaining the necessary leave of the High Court. The Appellant subsequently sought, and obtained, permission from the High Court either to continue the first proceedings, or to issue new proceedings.
The Court of Appeal’s decision
The question for the Court of Appeal was whether the first proceedings were a nullity or whether the High Court could grant retrospective permission to a claim presented without the necessary prior permission.
Simler LJ held that the first proceedings were a nullity and the High Court could not grant retrospective permission. A CPO operates as a filter regulating a vexatious litigant’s access to the courts. That filter “is intended to ensure that neither respondents nor the courts and tribunals, are required to respond to, or otherwise deal with, claims sought to be brought by vexatious litigants unless and until the vexatious litigant has satisfied the High Court that the proceedings are not an abuse of process and there are reasonable grounds for instituting them (section 42(3) SCA 1981). This can only be achieved if permission is sought before proceedings are instituted. The requirement of permission will not operate as a filter or a safeguard against vexatious litigation if it can be given retrospectively (as this case demonstrates)…”
Bláthnaid Breslin appeared for the successful Respondents, led by Edward Kemp of Matrix Chambers.
James Wynne of Littleton Chambers appeared for the Appellant.