Attempt to shut down 'vexatious litigant'

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:02 08/05/2012
James Reid
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ

HOUSE OF DISCONTENT: James Reid's distinctive house makes his view of the Tararua District Council clear.

James Reid
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
RARE CASE: James Reid could become only the eighth person whose access to the court system is restricted.

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A Woodville man could become just the eighth person in 50 years to be prohibited from taking court action, based on rarely-used legislation that can silence "vexatious" litigants.

The attorney-general is seeking an order to stop self-described "community advocate" James Robert Reid from being able to file civil action in court.

Should the application succeed, Reid could take a civil lawsuit or represent others in a suit only with the approval of the High Court.

Since the Judicature Act was amended to allow such action in 1965, only seven people have been subject to its restrictions.

Tararua District Council has been Reid's recent focus and two years ago the council revealed figures showing it had spent $388,000 defending legal action brought by him. However, Reid said he was the victim of a "two-pronged" attack by the council.

He has also led legal proceedings against the New Zealand Fire Service Commission since his dismissal from the service in 1995.

Initially, the Employment Tribunal ruled his dismissal unjustified.

But the Employment Court disagreed and a later Court of Appeal judgment said Reid was an "aggrieved litigant" who "would not let the matter rest".

In the High Court at Palmerston North yesterday, Justice Patrick Keane and Justice Peter Woodhouse heard Reid had taken 77 legal cases before various courts since the mid-1980s.

The attorney-general's lawyer, David Soper, said 28 of those cases were dismissed and 26 were struck out. Since 2007, Reid had initiated "at least" 34 proceedings, of which 21 were determined against him.

Other cases were not pursued. The law says "highly compulsive litigants" who make "extravagant claims" could be considered vexatious. Soper said Reid fitted those descriptions and had made a series of "scandalous" claims against judges – whom Reid described as being part of a "judicial dictatorship".

Restricting somebody's access to the courts was not something the attorney-general did lightly, Soper said. "But that right must be balanced with the rights of others to be free from meritless litigation."

Scarce judicial resources should be used only for those with genuine grievances, he said.

Before the hearing proper began, Reid unsuccessfully asked for the application to be dismissed or at least adjourned. He said it was an abuse of process and had been brought improperly after possible lobbying of the attorney-general by Tararua District Council.

Reid acknowledged that since 2007 all his court action against the council had achieved nothing.

"That might well support my contention that public officials are not accountable through the courts," Reid said.

"Tararua District Council is not accountable in a political sense. Because it's a major employer, it has the resources to influence ratepayers and residents in the district.

"In some respects I see myself as political opposition in relation to examining some of the issues dealt with by the council."

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Reid said the council had twice tried to have him declared bankrupt but he had avoided that by paying the money he owed.

The council was trying to make a "two-pronged" attack on him, by either having him declared vexatious or bankrupt, Reid said. The hearing is expected to finish on Friday.

HOW IT WORKS

Section 88(b) of the Judicature Act says a vexatious litigant is: Someone who "persistently and without any reasonable ground instituted vexatious legal proceedings".

They can be stopped from filing civil claims in the High Court or other courts and tribunals below unless the High Court gives permission. If permission is denied, this cannot be appealed.

- Manawatu Standard

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