Professional claims handlers and solicitors must not be seen by the courts as taking advantage of their position and knowledge. Therefore, dealing with opponents who are litigants in person can be a challenge. Such a challenge becomes all the more significant when dealing with the compulsive claimant - also known as the "vexatious litigant".

Drawing on my recent experience of dealing with a litigant in person, I re-visit the legal position of seeking a civil restraint order and offer some tips to apply when faced with a similar situation.

Legal position

A vexatious litigant is a person who has been forbidden for a specified period of time (or indefinitely) by a High Court Judge to issue civil or criminal proceedings in any court in England and Wales without the court’s permission.

The Attorney General has the power under Section 42 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (previously the Supreme Court Act) to apply to the High Court for an order to make a claimant a vexatious litigant.

A list of vexatious litigants can be found on the MoJ website.

However, since the creation of Civil Restraint Orders (CRO), the number of applications to have a person prohibited from issuing proceedings under s.42 of the 1981 Act has dropped significantly.

What is a Civil Restraint Order?

A CRO can be made by the court against "a party who has issued claims or made applications that are totally without merit", pursuant to Part 3 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) (rule 3.11 and Practice Direction 3C).

There are three types of CRO: limited, extended and general. All are aimed at restraining the party from issuing claims and/or making any further applications in relation to the proceedings in which the order was made.

In all situations the party against whom a CRO has been made will need to seek the court’s permission in writing to issue any further claims or make any further applications in the proceedings to which the order relates, or more widely in the case of a general CRO. If permission is not sought the claim or application will be automatically dismissed.

Case study

The Claimant, a litigant in person, had successfully sued Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology for racial discrimination after failing to gain employment at the College in 1999. In 2010, the College instructed the Defendant, an expert consultant psychiatrist, to prepare a medical report on the alleged psychiatric injury suffered by the Claimant as a result of the discrimination.

Following the release of the Defendant’s report in 2010, the Claimant issued two separate claims against the Defendant seeking a total of £1,500,000 in damages on the basis that he believed that the Defendant had racially discriminated against him in his report. However, as the Claimant never provided clarification as to what his exact allegations were, it is unclear what he reproached the Defendant for.

Kennedys, on behalf of the Defendant, requested that the court strike out the claims under the court’s case management powers pursuant to CPR rule 3.4 and make a CRO against the Claimant.

The claims were struck out, Kennedys were awarded costs and an extended CRO was made against the Claimant. The basis of the CRO included the Claimant’s delay in bringing the claim, his apparent willingness to litigate frequently, his repeated failure to provide clarification, his intention to prolong and complicate the litigation process and the effect the litigation was having on the Defendant.