The Upper Tribunal has allowed an appeal by an appellant whose pre-hearing language and allegations had led the First-tier Tribunal to strike out his case.
In a recently handed down judgment Upper Tribunal Judge Jacobs says
Most appellants correspond with the tribunal only when necessary, make moderate criticisms and allegations, and express themselves politely. There is, however, a small body of appellants who are persistent in their correspondence which contains wild allegations that are expressed in an intemperate or aggressive tone…
What gave rise to the proceedings in question was an appeal, by a certain Mr Dransfield, of a decision by the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) (FTT) to strike out proceedings remitted to it by a decision of Judge Wikely in the Upper Tribunal (UT). That remittal decision was case reference GIA/1053/2011 – unhelpfully not currently available on the UT website – and is not to be confused with another (leading) decision by Wikely J in relation to an unsuccessful appeal by Mr Dransfield (reference GIA/3037/2011).
The FTT struck out the remitted case using powers conferred by rule 8(3)(b) of Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009 (SI No 1976) (“the Rules”), which permits a strike-out if
the appellant has failed to co-operate with the Tribunal to such an extent that the Tribunal cannot deal with the proceedings fairly and justly
It appears that Mr Dransfield was warned by the FTT judge by a direction on 11 January 2012 (I think this should say “2013”, but I quote from paragraph 4 of the UT’s judgment) about the unfortunate, although perhaps unintentional “hectoring tone” of his emails, and rule 8(3)(b) was specifically cited to Mr Dransfield, with the observation that
Co-operation, in this context, includes using moderate language and an appropriate tone
The warning was reinforced orally, and repeated on 29 April 2013.
Despite this, Mr Dransfield then sent an email on 12 May 2013, which the UT declines to quote in full but which is described thus
Mr Dransfield accused the Commissioner and Council of ‘conniving and colluding to pervert the Course of Justice’ and of producing ‘a pack of lies and deception’. He later referred twice to a ‘wider conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’ and said that there was sufficient evidence to justify arresting the Commissioner’s legal representative and Judge Wikeley for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
Accordingly, the proceedings were struck out, the same day.
Interestingly (and no doubt to the frustration of some of those involved), Mr Dransfield’s appeal of this strike out has succeeded. Jacobs J follows the words I quote at the start of this piece with
It is usually possible to deal with that small minority of appellants without resorting to the power to strike out proceedings. It is possible to ban a party from using emails and direct that any that are sent will be ignored. Another way is to limit a party to communicating in writing and only when requested, with other letters being filed but ignored. At a hearing, it is possible to limit the time allowed to a party or, if necessary, to require a party to leave the hearing room. In my experience, measures such as this are usually effective
In short, Jacobs J says that case management powers can be properly used to manage a potentially difficult litigant, and should not in this case have led to the “draconian step” of striking out Mr Dransfield’s appeal. The type of allegation made by Mr Dransfield is “regularly made in appeals before this Chamber and just as regularly ignored by the judges”. The power to strike out and the duty to cooperate are in a “reciprocal relationship” with the overriding objective “to enable the Tribunal to deal with cases fairly and justly” at Rule 2, and specifically those parts of Rule 2 which require flexibility in the proceedings (2(2)(b)) and that the parties are able to participate fully in the proceedings (2(2)(c)).
Jacobs J ends his judgment by noting that the FTT could have employed more flexible responses “without depriving Mr Dransfield of his right of appeal” and observes, by quoting William James
‘the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.’
Very true, but I think I would just add a general point that – sometimes – some things can be too big to overlook. There will still be some cases where the failure to comply with the duty to cooperate properly merits the striking out of proceedings.