A Court of Appeal Judge has called for new powers to penalise unrepresented litigants who flood courts with email.
In an Appeal Court hearing, Lady Justice King said court staff and the presiding judge had been “inundated” with messages from the opposing unrepresented litigants in person in a long-running financial dispute.
The case concerned a woman and her brother-in-law, who was a property investor. The latter had a poor credit rating as a result of having been made bankrupt and he therefore came to an arrangement that she would buy a property in her name and he would run a bed and breakfast business, covering the mortgage payments from the income generated. She became suspicious that some of the income generated was being diverted and her estranged husband then took control of the property.
The brother-in-law is reported to have forged documentation as a result and this led to a complex dispute over a number of years involving multiple applications and courtroom hearings. Eventually, the woman was ordered to pay her brother-in-law more than £40,000 in compensation for loss of profits. She appealed this ruling.
“Reluctantly” ruling that the sum payable should be reconsidered by a lower court, Lady Justice King noted:
“This litigation has been running almost continuously now for seven years. It has taken up countless court and judge hours as both parties, incapable of compromise, have bombarded the court with endless applications, such that [the sister-in-law’s barrister] now tells the court the judge has had to make orders that neither party may make an application without the leave of the court. “
The flood of emails to court staff and judges over the course of the case had resulted from “the refusal of either party to accept any ruling or decision” and strained the limited time and resources available for the dispute, Lady Justice King explained.
“A torrent of informal, unfocussed emails” had been frequently been sent to the Judge rather than the other party in the case, she continued, and neither judges nor court staff should have to deal with such an imposition on their time.
Judges should have the power, Her Ladyship suggested, to impose “strict directions regulating communications with the court and litigants should understand that failure to comply with such directions will mean that communications that they choose to send… will be neither responded to nor acted upon.”
Read the judgement here.