Restraint order for academic who sued chambers over website reference

CLoisters: Claim totally without merit

The High Court has imposed a three-year extended civil restraint order (ECRO) on a former academic who has been pursuing Cloisters Chambers over a reference to him on its website.

Mrs Justice Tipples struck out Dr Theodore Piepenbrock’s claim against the London School of Economics and 51 barristers at Cloisters, certifying it, and his application to lift a stay on the proceedings, as “totally without merit”.

The multi-headed claim arose from a case referenced on the Cloisters’ website profile of Paul Michell.

Under the heading ‘DISCRIMINATION/WHISTLEBLOWING’, it said: “Piepenbrock v LSE (2021) – Tribunal: EAT – Paul represents the LSE in this disability discrimination claim, the liability hearing for which is scheduled over 7 weeks in 2022. The Claimant has already fought and lost a High Court personal injury claim in respect of many of the matters at issue, and his related defamation claim was recently struck out. He seeks over £10 million. For press coverage see here.” [This linked to a Daily Mail article.]

The reference to £10m was changed to “a multi-million pound claim” some months after publication when Dr Piepenbrock’s son complained; Mr Michell accepted this was inaccurate.

Dr Piepenbrock claimed that some of these “defamatory statements and malicious falsehoods” were originally made by the LSE and repeated by Mr Michell as an agent acting on behalf of the LSE, and published by Cloisters.

The claim was stayed by the court on its own initiative in March 2023. Dr Piepenbrock applied to lift the stay and the defendants to strike it out; the LSE also sought the ECRO.

Tipples J said that, like most chambers, Cloisters was not a separate legal entity and the particulars of claim “failed to allege any basis on which any of the barrister defendants could be vicariously liable” for the acts of Mr Michell in relation to the profile entry.

In relation to Mr Michell, the particulars of claim “did not any disclose reasonable grounds for bringing a claim” in defamation, harassment, discrimination, malicious falsehood, negligence or the tort of intentionally causing physical or psychiatric harm.

The judge said Dr Piepenbrock’s allegations against the LSE were “hopeless, cannot be rescued by amendment and are an abuse of the court’s process”.

In applying for an ECRO, the LSE said this was the fifth set of proceedings Dr Piepenbrock had commenced against it in the last eight years. The previous claims all related to the same, or similar, factual matrix and were either stuck out or dismissed, and three ‘totally without merit’ orders made.

She said that, unless prevented by an ECRO, there was “a very real and significant risk” that Dr Piepenbrock would keep on litigating – he has already threatened the LSE and its solicitors, Pinsent Masons, with further litigation, accusing them both of harassment.

“On any rational and objective assessment, the time has now come for the pursuit of these allegations to cease,” Tipples J said.

She ordered that an ECRO be made to “restrain Dr Piepenbrock from issuing any claims or making any applications in the High Court or any county court concerning any matter involving or relating to or touching upon or leading to the proceedings in which this order is made without first obtaining my permission or, if I am not available, another High Court judge”.

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