Struck-off solicitor fails to overturn sentence for conducting litigation

Court of Appeal: Sentence not excessive

The Court of Appeal has refused permission for a struck-off solicitor to appeal against a suspended prison sentence handed out for conducting litigation in breach of the Legal Services Act 2007.

In Ellis v Ministry of Justice [2018] EWCA Civ 2686 – decided in June but only just published – Lord Justice Moylan said the decision to suspend the sentence could actually be seen as “merciful”.

Edward William Ellis was first suspended indefinitely from practice in 2006 and struck off the roll of solicitors in 2013, but continued to market himself as an “equity lawyer”.

He was appealing against a suspended committal order made for breaches of an order and also a general restraint order, both issued by Mrs Justice May in February.

In the breached order, he had been restrained from “issuing claims on behalf of others or from assisting others to bring claims in contravention of the Legal Services Act 2007”.

Mr Ellis had previously been found to have issued claim forms and applications in various proceedings on behalf of others. All the claim forms had been declared to constitute an abuse of process and a number were also found to be wholly devoid of merit.

May J recorded: “[Mr Ellis] has a fully formed and apparently internally consistent belief system focused on corruption. He believes that some – perhaps all – previous Prime Ministers, all judges and magistrates, the Government Legal Service and Ministry of Justice together with ‘state officers’, by which I took him to mean police and court staff, and probably all sorts of other people and institutions, are corrupt and that the decisions they make are, without exception, fraudulent; hence his destination of judicial decisions as ‘frauds’…

“These beliefs would have just been sad had Mr Ellis not acted upon them or if his ‘philosophy’ (his word) had not attracted adherents.

“But he has acted, unceasingly and vexatiously over many years, and persons with grievances against the justice system have been attracted and recruited. The result is that claim forms, application notices, appeals are issued and documents purportedly filed or served at various courts, bearing all the hallmarks of Mr Ellis’s unmistakable drafting.

“These are prolix, tendentious, mostly incomprehensible screeds, making the same assertions of fraud and corruption again and again.

“Consistent with his activity in drafting and promoting the issue of claims, Mr Ellis would also attend hearings in courts and tribunals with litigants to conduct cases on their behalf, using the occasions to repeat in oral representation the turgid, inchoate passages made in documentary form.”

May J said she had “no doubt” that in the eyes of those who had turned to him for help, “Mr Ellis’s past profession lends credence to what he is telling them”.

She sentenced Mr Ellis to three months’ imprisonment suspended for a year.

Refusing permission to appeal, Moylan LJ said the core of Mr Ellis’s case was that May J should have recused herself and “more broadly, that the judge was disqualified, or had no jurisdiction to determine the committal application or make the civil restraint order because the whole judicial system is corrupt”.

He found no merit in either submission, and continued that Mr Ellis’s actions – such as trying to serve documents on the Government Legal Department, seeking to file documents at court and assisting people in court – were the conduct of litigation.

As to the sentenced, Moylan LJ said: “The judge described the breaches, rightly in my view, as being of ‘high severity’. She was also, in my view, clearly right to describe Mr Ellis as having ‘shown complete disregard for the authority of the court’.

“The term imposed by the judge cannot possibly be described as excessive and her decision to suspend the sentence could well be described as merciful.”

Similarly, the two-year civil restraint order “was clearly justified”. There was “no prospect” of the Court of Appeal deciding that the judge was wrong to make the civil restraint order.

Lord Justice Davis agreed.

The decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2006 started with Mr Ellis’s failure to comply with a direction of the Office of Supervision of Solicitors (a forerunner of the Legal Ombudsman) after it upheld a client’s complaint against him.

This led to inappropriately worded letters to the complainant, the Law Society, senior judges and others, for which he was also sanctioned. The letters reflected his views about corruption in the courts.

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