What is a Civil Procedure Order?
A Civil Procedure Order (CPO) is a court order restraining a party from bringing proceedings or making applications in proceedings without the permission of the court. The High Court has the power to grant a CPO under Section 42 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
CPOs are rare and are most often imposed on a party who has already been the subject of a Civil Restraint Order (CRO). They act as an additional tool available to the court as a means of restraining vexatious litigants, in circumstances where a CRO has not been successful.
What are the criteria for obtaining a CPO?
CPOs are granted where it can be shown that a party has “habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground” commenced vexatious proceedings, applications, or prosecutions.
Before issuing a CPO, the court must consider the “habitually and persistently” condition and assess the balance of justice by evaluating the party’s right to invoke a civil court’s jurisdiction and the need for public protection against abusive and ill-founded claims. When doing this, the court will consider the judges’ conclusion in the underlying proceedings.
It is good practice for a CPO to include a prohibition against acting as a ‘McKenzie Friend’ – assisting someone else who does not have legal representation to bring or defend proceedings.
So, what’s new? A summary of the latest case
For those who have been on the receiving end of litigation brought by a serial and vexatious litigant, they will know only too well that that they don’t give up easily and often look for ways to try and circumvent the system. That is exactly what happened in the case of Williamson v Bishop of London.
Reverend Williamson was the subject of a CPO which required him to seek permission from the High Court before bringing any civil proceedings – which includes proceedings in the employment tribunal. When Rev Williamson reached the age of 70, his parish appointment was terminated. He issued proceedings for age discrimination in the tribunal without obtaining the High Court’s permission. As a result, the tribunal and the employment appeal tribunal held that the proceedings were a nullity and refused to allow the claim to proceed.
Rev Williamson appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that the tribunal proceedings ought to have been stayed, pending his retrospective application for permission to the High Court. The Court of Appeal disagreed, confirming that obtaining permission from the High Court was a condition precedent of bringing a valid proceeding, given that the mischief that a CPO is directed at is to “avoid the unnecessary use of court time and resources on unjustified litigation and to protect prospective defendants from the expense which that involves.”
The High Court went as far as stating that vexatious litigants are “often as not motivated more by a desire to enjoy the oxygen of the legal process than any desire for or expectation of redress from it.” Therefore allowing them to issue proceedings and then apply for permission retrospectively, undermining the purpose of the legislation regarding CPOs. In essence, a CPO is designed to act as a filter, to ensure that neither the courts nor respondents have to deal with vexatious litigation.