Judge tells regulators to use summary processes against vexatious litigants

Saini: Complaint against QC was plainly vexatious and misconceived

Legal regulators need to have summary processes in place to deal with vexatious litigants who use their procedures to continue a “proxy war” against lawyers, a High Court judge has said.

Renewing a general civil restraint order (GCRO) against former nurse Alvida Harrold for another two years, Mr Justice Saini criticised the Bar Standards Board (BSB) for taking almost a year to investigate a third complaint about the same QC.

“This case is a good example of the need for regulators of legal professionals to be astute in identifying litigants who abusively use regulatory process in order to pursue complaints about the outcome of legal proceedings, as opposed to any genuine claims of professional misconduct.

“It is important that summary processes be in place to deal with such situations.”

Ms Harrold lost her job as a nurse in 2005 and was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in 2009. The High Court rejected an appeal against this in 2016.

Saini J said that, ever since her striking off, Ms Harrold had been “litigating or attempting to litigate” about that fact and related matters.

“Her conduct involves wide-ranging allegations of dishonesty or discrimination on the part of anyone who opposes her position. She also refuses to accept the result of any proceedings which have been concluded against her.”

Ms Harrold was first made subject to a GCRO in 2016 by Mrs Justice Laing. It has been renewed several times since, most recently by Mr Justice Chamberlain.

As well as a series of unsuccessful claims against the NMC and North Bristol NHS Trust, where she had worked, she pursued a “campaign” against their lawyers, which involved “making the most serious allegations against them, including repeated allegations of dishonesty and of misleading the court”.

In addition to complaining directly to the lawyers, their law firms and chambers, Ms Harrold complained to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and BSB.

Saini J said that Chamberlain J had declined to extend the previous GCRO to the legal regulators for “jurisdictional reasons” and also because there was “no evidence that the processes of the relevant legal regulators were, as a matter of practice, unable to deal with vexatious complaints”.

Saini J said Chamberlain J “explained that where it is obvious that a complaint lacks merit, it may be possible for it to be rejected as unfounded without referring it to the legal professional concerned. He said that in other cases, it may be possible to reject the complaint after considering a brief response from the professional.”.

The SRA told Ms Harrold that it could not identify a breach of its rules that warranted a regulatory investigation.

However, in December 2020, Ms Harrold made a “lengthy complaint” to the BSB about a QC, following two unsuccessful complaints to the regulator about him.

In what Saini J said was a “plainly vexatious and misconceived” complaint, she alleged that Adam Solomon QC had misled the High Court in 2016 when it was hearing her failed appeal.

“I am surprised that the BSB felt unable to determine her complaint summarily given her previous vexatious complaints to the BSB; and the fact that they had been warned in advance that Mrs Harrold would continue to make such complaints.

“The BSB conducted a lengthy investigation lasting almost one year, requiring various responses and documents from Mr Solomon.

“Mr Solomon argued before me that none of this should have happened and the BSB should not have ‘facilitated her abuse’ by conducting the lengthy investigation which he also termed ‘baroque’.”

Saini J said he could “see the force of Mr Solomon’s submission”, while accepting that the position was complicated by the fact that the QC was a BSB board member, and a more detailed, independent investigation was “possibly required”.

When the BSB finally dismissed Ms Harrold’s complaint and she responded with seven further complaints, the regulator “rather belatedly decided” that it would no longer investigate or respond to her communications.

Saini J said it was clear that Ms Harrold sought to use complaints against the legal teams of the NMC and the Trust “as an alternative means of relitigating the matters which the GCRO prevented her from litigating in court, a form of proxy war to evade the terms of the GCRO”.

He extended the GCRO for another two years.

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