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Vexatious Proceedings: Beware troublesome litigants of the Courts and VCAT

By Lynda Lim DE Senior Litigation Lawyer.

The Vexatious Proceedings Act 2014 (“the  Act”) has been in force since 31 October 2014.

What is a vexatious litigant?

A vexatious litigant sometimes sues the same person, business and government over and over again; and sometimes sue a series of different people, businesses and government organisations.

Vexatious proceedings include those that are commenced to annoy or embarrass the person against whom they are brought, or are so obviously groundless to be utterly hopeless.

A vexatious litigant may significantly affect a person’s access to the justice system. The result is often that the party with limited financial resources “bows out” of proceedings due to the delays and costs brought about by the vexatious litigant. Vexatious litigants can also pose strain on the legal system, wasting courts’ valuable time and causing genuine stress to the parties involved.

What was the old system like?

Previously, the Attorney-General could apply to the Supreme Court under section 21 of the Supreme Court Act 1986 for a person to be declared a vexatious litigant.

The limitation with the old system was that the threshold for making such a declaration was quite high, and as a result could only be made if proof of a long history of vexatious litigation could be established.

In 2008, the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported that due to the high threshold, the system had limited utility and effect. It is interesting to note that in the past 85 years, only 21 people were declared vexatious in Victoria.

Objective of the Act

The Act has a regime in place for the effective management and prevention of vexatious litigation.

The Act provides a graduated system whereby courts can choose from one of three “litigation restraint orders” (LRO) – a limited LRO, an extended LRO or a general LRO. These orders range in restrictiveness based upon the litigant’s history and pattern of behaviour.

A person who is sued by a vexatious litigant, and other persons with a sufficient interest in the matter, can apply to the Supreme, Magistrates’, County, Children’s Courts or VCAT for an LRO to be made against a person.

Further, there are much better protections against vexatious litigants making repeated application to the court for permission to bring further proceedings.

The Act has ensured vexatious litigants can be managed with certainty and at a much earlier stage, thus allowing the process of debt recovery and finalisation of a matter to occur in a timelier fashion.

If you have been served with legal proceedings by a vexatious litigant or would like more information, please contact Senior Litigation Lawyer, Lynda Lim, for a full and frank discussion.