Vexatious Litigants

Mon, 09 Jul 2012

By Charles Price
Most employment lawyers have encountered serial litigants in the tribunal but often the tribunal seems impotent in dealing with them. To defend a case in such circumstances, the Respondent will inevitably incur legal fees and time wasted and many companies may be prepared to settle out of court for not an insubstantial sum to avoid this. In this context, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has delivered a resounding blow to a serial litigant, who had started 31 sets of employment tribunal proceedings over 28 years. 
 
Anthony Bentley, who claimed in his CV to be a qualified photographer and to have been an entertainer, issued proceedings for age discrimination and, in some cases, disability discrimination, in tribunals across the country, including Manchester, Exeter, Sheffield and London. 
 
The EAT said that Bentley would either apply for a job or inform the potential employer that he was available for work. When he did not receive a job offer, he would issue proceedings. He attended no hearings and none of his claims, all made between 3 June 2009 and 29 September 2011, were successful.
 
The EAT imposed the little known, indefinite ‘restriction of proceedings order’ on Bentley under section 33 of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996. This bars him from starting or continuing any proceedings before an employment tribunal or the EAT without the EAT’s permission.
 
Section 33 of the Employment Tribunals Act provides in subsection 1:
“If, on an application by the Attorney General… the Appeal Tribunal is satisfied that a person has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground—
 
(a) instituted vexatious proceedings, whether in an Employment Tribunal or before the Appeal Tribunal, and whether against the same person or against different persons; or
(b) made vexatious applications in any proceedings, whether in an Employment Tribunal or before the Appeal Tribunal,
the Appeal Tribunal may, after hearing the person or giving him an opportunity of being heard, make a restriction of proceedings order.” 
 
In making the order, the EAT considered HM Attorney General v Barker [2002] SCR 1. That case involved a civil proceedings order under section 42 of what is now the Senior Courts Act 1981. Bingham CJ, as he then was, said as follows:
 
“The hallmark of a vexatious proceeding is in my judgment that it has little or no basis in law (or at least no discernible basis); that, whatever the intention of the proceedings may be, its effect is to subject the defendant to inconvenience, harassment and expense out of all proportion to any gain likely to accrue to the claimant, and that it involves an abuse of the process of the Court, meaning by that a use of the court process for the purpose or in a way which is significantly different from the ordinary and proper use of the court process.”
 
The EAT considered that this also applied to Bentley, who had made numerous 'misconceived' claims and, despite being warned, had not curbed his propensity to make further similar claims.
 
The type of vexatious behaviour found in an employment context was further described by Rimer J, as he then was, in the case of HM Attorney General v Roberts [2005] All ER (D) 138. At paragraph 6 of his Judgment he said as follows:
 
“Most cases of allegedly vexatious litigants, as Lord Bingham there points out [in a reference to Barker], concern repeated claims or applications in respect of one particular matter by which the litigant has become obsessed, commonly involving the same defendant or defendants. In the employment law field this is a less common feature. Instead, what is commonly seen is the making of repeated applications of a like time to employment tribunals, usually against different respondents but founded on the like basis. In this case, the pattern of Mr Roberts’ repeated applications to employment tribunals is that they allege a discriminatory refusal to give him a job for which he has applied on the alleged ground of his trade union membership and connections. The Attorney General knows of at least 24 applications he has made to employment tribunals and, with some exceptions, the respondents are all different. This feature is, however, no bar to a case being made out under section 33, as of course section 33(1)(a) makes plain.”
 
The EAT believed that description accurately fitted the conduct and the pattern of conduct of Bentley stating that, 'he applies for a job or for work and alleges age and/or disability discrimination on no basis other than that he was not successful in his application'. 
 
Her Majesty's Attorney General v Mr A Bentley (UKEAT/0556/11/RN), Wilkie J
Case reference: UKEAT/0556/11
 
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