Would-be barrister fails in bid to lift vexatious litigant order

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By Legal Futures

4 April 2016

Law Society: on the receiving end of many claims

Law Society: on the receiving end of many claims

The High Court has rejected a bid by a would-be barrister to lift a decade-old declaration that she was a vexatious litigant, which she said was harming her prospects of becoming a lawyer.

Mrs Justice Carr said the evidence was that Paula May Gladys Douglas’s “propensity for vexatious litigation remains”. She has previously unsuccessfully sued the Law Society and the then College of Law dozens of times between them for alleged discrimination.

According to the ruling – issued in December but only published recently – Ms Douglas had been a legal practice course student in the mid-1990s but failed it twice. Between 1997 and 2000 she commenced 42 sets of proceedings, including county court actions, employment tribunal claims and applications to apply for judicial review, against various bodies.

In 2001, she was found to be a vexatious litigant, but the application was adjourned for a year in order to assess her willingness to refrain from further litigation. She desisted from bringing actions and in 2002 the Attorney-General consented to the dismissal of the application against her.

However, five weeks after this, Ms Douglas commenced 28 further sets of proceedings, which eventually led to a High Court order in 2006 declaring her a vexatious litigant.

Carr J recounted: “[Ms Douglas] states that she regrets her past litigious behaviour and offers her sincerest remorse. She is currently 53 years of age, and has a university honours law degree, something for which she is of course to be commended.

“She has, in the summer of this year, become a newly qualified further education (law) teacher and an A1 assessor of vocational training awards. These are again impressive achievements. She now wishes to undertake an LLM at Chester University or a GDL at the University of Law. She wishes to join Lincoln’s Inn and become a barrister.

“She tells the court that she is a renewed Christian and no longer has the same drive to litigate. She says that her pre-2007 litigation was misconceived since at that time she thought that she was being discriminated against for dyslexia and dyspraxia which, in fact, in 2007 she learned she did not suffer from.

“The applicant’s evidence is that the order is, for her, a punitive, humiliating and restrictive measure on her prospects of becoming a lawyer. It would be an embarrassment to her and any employer institution. She is concerned that it may lead to disciplinary proceedings and/or dismissal if any of her students and colleagues were to learn of the publication of her name, for example, on the HMCTS website.”

However, the judge said Ms Douglas “appears to continue to take issue with a number of decisions or conduct on the part of those whom she sued repeatedly in the past”, and had in recent years sought permission to bring action against them.

Ms Douglas described this as “not litigation as such, it is merely re-litigation in an attempt to challenge the [vexatious litigant] order”, but Carr J said some of the cases could never have led to the order being set aside.

There have also been multiple proceedings in Northern Ireland and Scotland against, among others, the Ministry of Justice, the Lord Chief Justice, the Bar Standards Board and Lincoln’s Inn.

Carr J said the fact that Ms Douglas was prejudiced by the existence of the order “does not mean that the rationale for its imposition has disappeared”.

She continued: “[Ms Douglas] has ignored multiple warnings in the past and continued to litigate unreasonably. She has had her chances but she has not used them to date.

“Thus, contrary to her implicit submissions, it appears likely that, unrestrained, she will pursue further vexatious proceedings.”

The judge offered an olive branch, saying that if Ms Douglas “ceased from any form of unreasonable litigious activity for perhaps a period of some two or three years, she might be in a position to consider renewing the application that I consider that the court must currently dismiss”.

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