In the Court of Appeal recently, Ms Justice Irvine made observations on the issues which arise for lay litigants when they are advised by advisors who are not legally qualified.

Background

Mr. Fox instituted proceedings in 2014 (the 2014 proceedings) which challenged the appointment of a Receiver over various properties owned by him. This claim was dismissed by Ms Justice O’Regan on 15 July 2016. The dismissal was appealed to the Court of Appeal and was upheld.

Two days prior to the hearing before Ms Justice O’Regan, Mr. Fox issued new proceedings (the 2016 proceedings) which were effectively a duplication of the 2014 proceedings. On application by the defendants, Mr Justice Gilligan in the High Court dismissed Mr. Fox’s proceedings as being frivolous and vexatious and an abuse of process. Mr Justice Gilligan also made an Order restraining Mr. Fox from commencing any new proceedings concerning the matters the subject of the proceedings.

Court of appeal

Mr. Fox appealed the decisions of Mr Justice Gilligan to the Court of Appeal. During the appeal, Mr. Fox did not seek to argue that the 2016 proceedings were difference in substance to the 2014 proceedings. The Court found from the submissions made on behalf of Mr. Fox that the 2016 proceedings were issued in order to frustrate the sale of the properties by the Receiver and to try to “buy time” to put himself in a position to buy back his properties from the Receiver. Ms Justice Irvine dismissed the appeal and found that Mr Justice Gilligan had not erred in law or in fact when dismissing the 2016 proceedings, as the issues had already been determined in the 2014 proceedings.

Advice for lay litigants

Ms Justice Irvine commented that it was regrettable that many lay litigants such as Mr. Fox were being advised by people with no legal qualifications, no real understanding of the law and no professional indemnity insurance or accountability for advice they provide. Ms Justice Irvine went on to comment that regardless of the motivation of these individuals and whether they are being paid for their services or not, the advice provided was “rarely, if ever, correct”. Where plaintiffs have followed their advice, and are ultimately unsuccessful in their applications, the Court has little option but to award costs, which results in further indebtedness for lay litigants who have already suffered serious financial loss.

Plaintiff restrained

Mr. Fox was restrained from instituting any further proceedings in relation to his properties without a further Order of the Court. Ms Justice Irvine commented that this was in Mr. Fox’s best interests as “he may fall prey to further if even possibly well intentioned but nonetheless misguided legal advice to the effect that there is some other legal avenue open to him to stave off the sale of his properties”.

Fintan Fox v Declan McDonald and Danske Bank trading as Danske Bank and Sherry Fitzgerald Auctioneers and Sherry Fitzgerald Lannon Auctioneers and Sherry O’Reilly Auctioneers [2017] IECA 189