R (Sivasubramaniam) v Wandsworth County Court ; R (Sivasubramaniam) v Kingston upon Thames County Court and another (Lord Chancellor's Department intervening)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
JudgeLord Phillips MR
Judgment Date28 November 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] EWCA Civ 1738
Docket NumberCase Nos: B1/2002/0191 and B1/2002/0107
Date28 November 2002

[2002] EWCA Civ 1738

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE

COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

ADMINISTRATIVE COURT

The Hon Mr Justice Hooper

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand,

London, WC2A 2LL

Before

Lord Phillips Mr

Lord Justice Mance and

Lord Justice Latham

Case Nos: B1/2002/0191 and B1/2002/0107

Between
Markandu Sivasubramaniam
Appellant
and
Wandsworth County Court
Respondent (1)
Management of Guildford College of Further & Higher Education & Anor
Respondent (2)
Lord Chancellor's Department
Intervener
Lord Phillips MR

This is the judgment of the court

1

On 13 December last year, Hooper J. dismissed two applications for permission to proceed to seek judicial review brought by Mr Sivasubramaniam. Each related to a decision of a Circuit Judge sitting in the County Court. He now seeks permission to appeal to this court. The applications were two of a number of similar applications referred to Hooper J. Such applications are, we understand, a novel feature of the civil justice system. They raise important issues of principle as to the circumstances in which an application for judicial review will lie in respect of a decision of a judge in a County Court and the approach to be adopted to such an application. Mr Sivasubramaniam, who has at all stages appeared in person without any professional assistance, was unaware of these issues. They are complex and few litigants in person could be expected to master them. Happily Mr Philip Sales has sought permission to intervene on behalf of the Lord Chancellor's Department ('the Department'). The Department has policy responsibility for civil justice and the court system, including matters relating to the interpretation and application of the procedural rules governing appeals and permission to appeal. It does not seem to us that there is any conflict between the interest that flows from that responsibility and the interest of justice on the facts of these applications. It would, of course, have been open to the Department to instruct counsel to represent the respondents on each application. That is not, we would emphasise, the role in which Mr Sales appears. Accordingly we have granted him permission to intervene in the confidence that his role will not in practice differ from that of what we used to call an 'amicus curiae'.

An overview

2

The submissions made to us by Mr Sales have been exclusively directed to the issues of law which are of general importance. The two applications have been no more than vehicles used by him, on behalf of the Department, to bring those issues before the Court. The submissions made by Mr Sivasubramaniam have been exclusively directed to the facts. His case is, in essence, that he has been the victim of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice that has vitiated every relevant stage of each set of proceedings. This averment is the foundation for his claims to relief. The allegations made by Mr Sivasubramaniam are so extreme and extraordinary that no court could properly take them seriously without cogent supporting evidence. Of this there is none. The result is that, quite apart from any problems of practice and procedure, Mr Sivasubramaniam's applications were doomed from the outset. It is right that we should demonstrate shortly why this is so.

3

We shall start with some central background facts which we have no reason to question. These are deduced from the documents before us, amplified by information supplied to us by Mr Sivasubramaniam.

4

On 20 March 1998 Mr Sivasubramaniam was alarmed by the sound of battering at the door of his flat. He phoned the police who arrived at the same time that the door was broken down. Those responsible proved to be a Doctor, a social worker and two other men. They had an order for his detention under s.2 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This had been obtained on the ground of alleged apprehension that he was not eating and might be at risk of starvation. He was taken to Springfield Mental Hospital and there detained, initially under s.2 and subsequently under s.3 of the Act. Medication was administered, which he found extremely debilitating. After about 5 months he was released, but a social worker called once a week to ensure that he continued to take the medication. Not until March 2001 did he feel that he had recovered from this experience.

5

We now turn to summarise briefly Mr Sivasubramaniam's version of events. Mr Sivasubramaniam was adamant that he had never been mentally ill. The events described above were all part of a long-running criminal conspiracy against him involving members of Wandsworth Borough Council solicitors, lawyers and the chief executive and the finance officer and their assistants, members of the Wandsworth police, doctors in the hospitals, social workers, local court officials, judges and the lessee occupying the flat below his. The conspiracy involved unsuccessful attempts to murder him and had been, at least in part, responsible for the events which had led to the claims in both sets of proceedings. It had included impersonation of him, had involved the fraudulent termination of four sets of legal proceedings that he was conducting, including the two with which we are concerned, while he was detained under the Mental Health Act or under medication thereafter, and continued to this day.

6

We believe that this summary speaks for itself. No judge could be expected to accept this version of events on the simple assertion of Mr Sivasubramaniam. We turn to summarise the two sets of proceedings.

Proceedings in the Wandsworth County Court.

7

In 1990 Mr Sivasubramanium went to work as a laboratory technician at the Guildford College of Further and Higher Education. In 1993 he was made redundant. It is his case that this was unlawful and that Unison were in part responsible for failing properly to protect his interests. He brought proceedings against Unison in Wandsworth County Court, claiming damages. These proceedings were dismissed in February 1999. Mr Sivasubramaniam has given various conflicting explanations of the circumstances in which this occurred, including (i) that a forged application was made for the dismissal of the proceedings and (ii) that he was coerced by threats to his life into discontinuing the proceedings, together with the other three that he was pursuing.

8

On 8 February 2001 Mr Sivasubramaniam wrote to the Court Manager at Wandsworth County Court, seeking to reopen the proceedings. In a letter dated 26 th February the Court Service wrote to him with regard to the letter of the 8 th February stating:

"According to our records this matter was settled on the 22 nd February 1999."

The letter went on:

"Unfortunately this file has been destroyed as the action is over 3 years' old and the case has been closed. To reopen the case you will have to apply on notice on an N244 Application Form (see enclosed) and pay a fee of £50.00. You will also need to supply any documentation you have regarding this matter."

9

On 3 or 4 May 2001 Mr Sivasubramaniam made an application to the court for an order for a money payment of £71, 925, together with further compensation, which he alleged was due pursuant to a judgment obtained on 13 March 1997. On the 9 th May the Court Service replied:

"Your application received on 04 May 2001: the Circuit Judge has considered the file and notes that a final order dismissing the claims was made on 22 February 1999, this concluded the proceedings numbered Wt604012 and so you may not issue your proposed application variously dated 3 or 4 May 2001 in these proceedings as the subject matter of your application appears to be the same as the subject matter of the proceedings."

10

On 25 June 2001 Mr Sivasubramaniam applied for permission to appeal. On 2 August 2001 the Court Service replied:

"Your application dated 25 June 2001 was referred to the Circuit Judge who was unclear as to what you are appealing since this case was dismissed in February 1999. If you wish to pursue a case against Unison then you will have to issue fresh proceedings.

Enclosed is your application along with a refund of £50.00."

11

On 29 August 2001 Mr Sivasubramaniam. made a claim for permission to proceed with a claim for judicial review. This came on for an oral hearing before Hooper J. on 13 December 2001, together with a number of other similar claims in respect of decisions in county courts, including the other claim of Mr Sivasubramaniam with which we are concerned. While it did not appear clearly from Mr Sivasubramaniam's Claim Form, Hooper J. identified in the course of oral argument that the decision challenged was that in the letter of 2 August. The material grounds advanced by Mr Sivasubramaniam. for attacking the decision appear sufficiently from the concluding paragraphs of Hooper J's judgment:

"I have considerable doubts as to whether judicial review is an appropriate remedy. I shall assume for the purposes only of argument that the claimant can proceed by way of judicial review. To succeed the claimant would have to show that there was an arguable case that the judge who decided, in effect, that the application to reopen the case failed had made an error of law or reached a conclusion which no reasonable Judge could have reached. There is no such arguable case.

I note that the claimant suggests that the letter is "fictitious and not valued" because the name of the Judge is not mentioned. Indeed the claimant states that "This acts of court official fraudulent and forgery which are in fact criminal offence." Whilst accepting that it would have been better if the name of the judge had been revealed, the failure to do so could not arguably result in the decision being quashed. As to the complaint about the failure...

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