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Legislation to be developed to tackle vexatious litigation

Follows petition presented on Tynwald Day by Manx resident

Tynwald has agreed to task a committee with looking into the issue of 'vexatious litigation' on the Isle of Man.

The Constitutional and Legal Affairs and Justice Committee will 'give consideration to the issue and [determine] what legislation may be needed to provide improved protections and recourse in this matter', before it reports back to Tynwald.

It follows a petition submitted to the court, on Tynwald Day this year, by Manx resident Mark Cleator, which has been picked up by Middle MHK Stu Peters.

He presented it to Tynwald last week where his motion was amended by Justice and Home Affairs Minister Jane Poole-Wilson.

Vexatious litigation is defined as 'legal action which is brought solely to harass or subdue an adversary'.

In the UK vexatious litigants are forbidden from starting civil cases in courts without permission - but no such legislation exists here.

That's something that Mr Peters says needs to change:

LAND CLAIM

The introduction of legislation may come too late for Mr Cleator who has spent more than 10 years fighting his personal case.

He was gifted a piece of family lifestyle land - a small field - by his father which he says he held the deeds and clear legal title for.

However, another individual - described as 'predatory' by Mr Peters - attempted to take that land, legally, using the Island's adverse possession laws.

'Adverse possession' is known colloquially as “squatters rights” and is based on an ancient philosophy requiring owners of land to actually make productive use of it.

Mark told Manx Radio the ongoing legal challenge has resulted in extensive legal bills and at risk of losing his home:

STATUTORY POWERS

In Tynwald Mr Peters moved 'that Tynwald notes the petition of Mr Mark Jason Cleator and supports the introduction of similar legislation providing improved protections and recourses against vexatious litigations'.

In a statement issued following the sitting, to Manx Radio, Mrs Poole-Wilson said: "We recognise the importance of having the appropriate protections in place to prevent residents from vexatious proceedings – actions which have no basis in law, or occur when someone habitually and persistently pursues proceedings against someone, causing inconvenience, harassment and expense.

"Currently in the Island, rules of court provide the High Court with some powers, including civil restraint orders, to deal with vexatious proceedings. Unlike the UK, we do not have a statutory power to allow the Attorney General to apply for an order to restrain vexatious litigants, except for a provision in our Equality Act which only applies to the Employment and Equality Tribunal.

"It is important to protect every individual’s access to justice, with fairness as the overriding principle. This means that in practice there is a high burden of proof to label proceedings as vexatious.  

"Current UK guidance suggests that the Attorney General may intervene after at least six unsuccessful or struck-out claims, however, each case is evaluated on its own merits.

"The matter will now be considered by the Constitutional, Legal Affairs, and Justice Committee and the department looks forward to seeing its report in due course.

"It is imperative that any changes reflect the fundamental principles of open access to justice while also protecting the rights and interests of individuals."

You can hear the full report from Manx Radio Breakfast below:

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