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Dealing with vexatious claimants: Civil Procedure Orders in UK Employment Tribunals

As a business, it can be extremely frustrating dealing with individuals who make repeated complaints or claims against you or your staff. Such individuals can often be difficult to manage and can cause significant cost and disruption to the business. Whilst employers’ options are limited where an individual raises multiple grievances, fortunately this is not the case where an individual is known to have brought multiple claims against their employers in a court or employment tribunal. In this article we look at civil procedures orders and how businesses can utilise such orders to defend or limit claims from what are known as “vexatious litigants”.

Whilst there is no formal definition of a vexatious litigant, they are generally viewed as individuals who have brought a number of claims against businesses, including employers or former employers, which in general have no basis in law. Such claims take a great toll on businesses and waste valuable court resources. Such individuals have long been recognised by the courts and under powers granted by the Senior Courts Act 1981, courts are able to restrict individuals from bringing claims. 

A civil procedure order (“CPO”) is one of the options available to employers to restrict the activities of a vexatious claimant. The order is designed to prevent the claimant, often a current or former employee, from taking any further legal action without first obtaining permission from the High Court. Upon any application from a vexatious litigant to bring a claim, the High Court would need to consider whether the proceedings were an abuse of process and would only grant permission to the individual to bring a claim if they are satisfied that there is a genuine claim to be considered.

CPO’s were further considered in the recent case of Williamson v Bishop of London. Mr Williamson had been subject to a Civil Proceedings Order in 1997. This Order was indefinite and Mr Williamson was still subject to the Order when he brought an employment tribunal claim for age discrimination in 2019. At no point was it suggested that this claim was vexatious or would amount to an abuse of process. In their ET3 response form, the Respondent, however, pointed out that Mr Williamson was subject of CPO and should have, therefore, applied to the High Court before bringing the claim. As he did not, the Respondent claimed that the proceedings were a “nullity” and should be struck out. Upon reviewing the response, Mr Williamson subsequently made an application to the High Court to have the claim heard.

Whilst the matter made it through various stages of appeal, the Court of Appeal have now confirmed that Mr Williamson should have applied to the High Court before bringing his claim and therefore the claim should be struck out.

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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