The courts have the power to and increasingly will make a civil restraint order where an individual persistently issues claims that are totally without merit.

This was the position in Supperstone v Hurst and Hurst in which the applicant was the trustee in bankruptcy of the first defendant. An order for sale and possession of the defendants' matrimonial home was obtained along with a declaration that it was owned in equal shares. Between them, the bankrupt and his wife made in excess of 10 applications in relation to the order made and under s 303 Insolvency Act 1986 following the trustee's refusal to accept an offer by the wife to purchase the trustee's interest in the property following possession. The judge had found that the applications under s 303 were wholly without merit and should not have been made. The trustee then applied for an order restraining the bankrupt and his wife from making any further claims against him arising out of the bankruptcy and from communicating with him or other former employees or partners without the court's permission.

The court held that it has an inherent jurisdiction to prevent abuse of its own processes. A civil restraint order should only be made where a party persistently makes claims which are totally without merit in more than one set of proceedings. The trustee had established more than the minimum requirement here and the order would be made against the bankrupt and his wife.

The court's power under the civil restraint order procedure did not however extend to preventing the defendants from communicating with whomsoever they wanted to. The procedure was to prevent abuse of the court process, not to prevent harassment to persons and so this part of the application was refused.

Things to consider

When faced with vexatious litigants, an application for a civil restraint order should be considered. The courts are becoming more willing to make such orders in light of the steadily increasing nuisance and wasted court time and costs that such individuals represent.