HC Deb 27 April 2004 vol 420 cc743-4
19. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab)

What powers are available to a court to investigate instances of the inappropriate commencement of court proceedings. [168402]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy)

Although the civil courts do not have investigatory powers, they do have extensive case-management powers to deal with claims brought inappropriately. For example, the court may stay proceedings, strike out a claim, give summary judgment or make a suitable order as to costs.

Mr. Illsley

My question emanates from a constituent who came to see me and who has been involved in litigation over the past 12 years, which resulted in a court judgment in which the judge said that the solicitors acting … in my view quite improperly … managed to induce another District Judge to set aside an application. He went on to say that the court has allowed itself to be manipulated by the plaintiff and his advisers. In my view, the court may not have been manipulated, but collaborated in the application brought by the solicitors. Can my hon. Friend tell me how my constituent could obtain an inquiry into the actions of the solicitors and the judges who were criticised in that later court judgment?

Mr. Lammy

My hon. Friend makes very serious allegations. He knows that court proceedings are ongoing, so it is difficult for the Department to comment at this time, and it would be inappropriate to do so. If the judge in the case was guilty of misconduct, my hon. Friend can take up the matter with the Lord Chancellor when the case comes to an end. He can raise the matter of the solicitors firm with the Law Society, and he can write to me if there is a specific problem.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

How many instances of inappropriate commencement of court proceedings were there last year in East Anglia? How widespread is the problem?

Mr. Lammy

The hon. Gentleman will know that under our system the problem of vexatious litigants is not a large one, and that courts seek to remedy such matters in various ways. Judges have different powers. I shall investigate the position in East Anglia and write to the hon. Gentleman to set out what has happened.

Vera Baird (Red car) (Lab)

Ought there not to be a similar power in the criminal court to investigate a failure to start proceedings? For instance, the Soham killer, Huntley, was alleged to have sexually assaulted at least six times, and he was never prosecuted. Why should not a judge, who has to mop up the consequences, ask on behalf of the public the question why not?

Mr. Lammy

My hon. and learned Friend makes an interesting point. Of course, it is a matter for the prosecuting authorities, and I am sure that they will be interested in her comments.