The Question to the Courts: Is serial litigation serial-killing justice?

April 20, 2022

3 min read

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What's going on here?

A serial litigant, who has repeatedly advanced “baseless allegations of bad faith and dishonesty”, has now been banned from bringing claims in the High Court for two years.

What does this mean?

Sayed Sangamneheri has been flagged as a “serial litigant” after repeatedly bringing “one application or claim after another in various different courts”. A litigant is anyone who brings a case against another in civil court or one who has a complaint being brought against them. Civil courts contend with individuals bringing a case against another due to a dispute or problem between them.

Sangamneheri bases his claims on a failed arbitration in 2015 concerning a contract to exchange plots of land for gold. He began by bringing a judicial review against Jonathan Bellamy (the lead arbitrator), Bellamy’s clerk, and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Judicial reviews are challenges brought against the way a decision has been made, rather than challenges to the decision itself. Here, this means Sanghamneheri challenges the procedure of the arbitration rather than the result itself. He then sued Bellamy for almost six sextillion kg of gold, which is allegedly “more than the total amount of gold ever mined in the world”.

Sanghamneheri’s most recent claim for £33.3 quadrillion, along with his previous claims, has been struck out as without merit by judges, who have also made an extended civil restraint order (ECRO). An ECRO is issued when a party has persistently made applications that are totally without merit.

What's the big picture effect?

The importance of this story revolves around the implications it has for the integrity and efficiency of the English legal system. Serial litigants fundamentally exploit the right to access justice, often with injurious consequences to other parties. Defendants such as Jonathan Bellamy and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators with real jobs that impact lives must now expend time and resources defending themselves against baseless claims with no compensation. Moreover, a legal complaint in itself may cause damage to their reputation and loss of business. While they claim damages for defamation, the actual damage is irreparable.

Judges have also expressed concerns about the cavalier manner in which serial litigants such as Sanghamneheri are able to repeatedly bring false claims of dishonesty and bad faith against an ever-expanding list of people. In cases of claims against the state, the harm mainly takes the form of time spent by attorneys for the state who must address these cases at the expense of others. Judicial time is a precious and limited resource that must be allocated efficiently. When individuals exploit this resource for adverse purposes, they prevent others from using the judicial resource, cause delays in the justice system, and effectively deny others the right of access to their own justice.

While most litigants are “litigants in person” (who represent themselves in court), litigants may also hire representatives. Accordingly, law firms are not immune to serial litigants either. Most top law firms have specialist litigation and dispute resolution departments, whilst smaller or specialist firms concentrate all their resources on litigation. These departments are usually called ‘Civil Litigation’, or ‘Dispute Resolution’. Although in this case, applicants pursuing false claims are expending private funds, law firms must still be wary of the clients they chose to represent in order to protect both their and the state’s resources. Law firms may do this by running background checks after taking on a client or requiring background documents such as solid proof of setback to be submitted as a precondition before accepting a client.

This forwards the question of what would transpire if the general public decided to make similar, albeit less unconvincing false claims. It may be proposed that to protect both time and financial capital expended on litigation claims, a fact-checking mechanism be put into place before claims are allowed to consume state resources and capital. However, excessive restrictions placed on who can bring a claim in court may impede innocent individuals’ right to access justice, especially if they do not possess the resources needed to bypass any additional obstacles. Litigants with sparse resources already find it hard to access the justice system; it is argued that the ‘serial litigant’ problem needs to be addressed in ways other than that which restricts others’ fundamental rights.

Report written by Sanjana Sethi

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