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Case Summary: Maughan v Wilmot [2019] EWHC 2765 (Fam)

10th October 2019

Florence Jones, Barrister, 1 Hare Court

The hearing concerned applications: for costs, for a general civil restraint order, and for an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 against “an exceptionally vexatious litigant”.

The parties, Captain Wilmot and Ms Maughan, divorced in 2001. However, there has been a long history of litigation. Many of the applications were brought by Captain Wilmot.

An extended civil restraint order was made against Captain Wilmot in 2014 preventing him from making any further applications without permission of the court. However, he continued to contact the court and to harass Ms Maughan and her solicitors [3]. As a result, Ms Maughan incurred costs of over £42,000 [4]. As such, she was seeking two things: first, her current and anticipated costs; second, remedies preventing Captain Wilmot from continuing to harass her.

Mr Justice Mostyn first dealt with the application made by Captain Wilmot in July 2019 that: first, the court did not have jurisdiction to hear Ms Maughan’s original application for financial remedy (nearly 20 years ago); and second, the order empowering a receiver to collect the judgment debt from his pension was “unlawful”. As Captain Wilmot was subject to the civil restraint order, the application for permission came before Mostyn J on the papers. It was refused. Captain Wilmot repeated the application in September 2019. On that occasion Mostyn J went further and directed that the decision to dismiss the application was final and there was no right of appeal (FPR PD4B 3.3) [9].

At the October hearing Captain Wilmot then sought an adjournment in order to allow his application to be heard orally. Mostyn J pointed out that: a) both applications should have been heard on the papers (FPR PD4B 3.6(c)); b) the time for appeal against the July application had passed; c) there was no right to appeal the September application [16].

In summary Ms Maughan (and the receiver who had also made an application) sought the following [13]:

  • Costs order for their current and anticipated costs.
  • Orders ensuring that practically the costs could be met from Captain Wilmot’s pension.
  • An extension of the freezing order over Captain Wilmot’s assets (allowing a cushion for possible future costs).
  • A general civil restraint order against Captain Wilmot
  • An order under Protection from Harassment Act 1977 preventing Captain Wilmot from harassing Ms Maughan, the children and Ms Maughan’s legal representatives

Mostyn J made all of the orders sought.

The costs orders were extensive. However, Mostyn J noted that the court had “full power” when making a costs order and, in considering CPR 44.2(4)(a), found Captain Wilmot’s conduct to be at “the top end of misconduct” [19].

Ms Maughan’s application for the general civil restraint order went further than the previous extended civil restraint order. A general civil restraint order requires the individual to obtain permission to make an application from a specific Judge, rather than the court generally (FPR PD4B 4.2). The order can only be made when an extended order “would not be sufficient or appropriate” (FPR PD4B 4.1). Mostyn J found the test was met and a general order was “amply justified”, describing Captain Wilmot’s approach as “one of the worst cases of vexatious litigation misconduct that I have ever encountered” [24].

The order was made for two years, until 2021 [24]. Mostyn J then went on to comment that, as Captain Wilmot was likely to make more vexatious applications, “it is not reasonable to expect the applicant to return to court every two years to renew the general order”. The case, in his view, merited an indefinite civil proceedings order (42(1) Senior Courts Act 1981). However, as such an application can only be made by the Attorney General, it was not in his power to make the order. He requested that the Judgment be passed to the Attorney General for his consideration [25].

Mostyn J concluded by refusing Captain Wilmot’s applications for an “amplification” of his judgment – commenting that amplification is limited to material omissions and errors and is not an opportunity for “further and better particulars of judgment” [29]- and permission to appeal [32].