Civil justice system overrun with ‘hopeless cases’

Master of the Rolls Lord Phillips, the most senior civil judge in England and Wales, revealed that there was growing concern among the judiciary about cases that are “wholly devoid of merit” clogging up the system. “There’s been a significant increase of obsessive litigants determined to have no procedural stone unturned, regardless of whether they have any arguable ground of appeal,” he said in the official Annual Review of the legal year.

The review revealed that nearly 40 per cent of all people who applied for permission to appeal were litigants-in-person and only one-tenth could demonstrate that they had “arguable grounds of appeal”. According to Lord Phillips, two deputy masters spent two hours a day “each day in utterly unproductive work” dealing with appeals that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain.

Lord Justice Brooke also continued the theme in the review. He reckoned that there were seven persistent litigators who had made a total of 178 applications to court since January 2000, and only one had been successful. The cost of each application was estimated to be £1,000. The review also flagged up the case of Taylor v Lawrence which held that the Court of Appeal could in exceptional circumstances reopen an appeal after it had given a final judgment. Applications under that ruling were “flooding” in at a rate of 200 a year.

“Nobody wishes to deny a litigant-in-person the chance of pursuing an appeal in a meritorious case,” said Judge Brooke. “The judges of the courts, however, can readily distinguish the utterly hopeless cases from cases which arguably have merit. We must find a way of handling the hopeless cases that doesn’t dig so deeply into the court’s resources”.