One Hearing, Nine Important Tips

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As usual, these tips concern things you should not do.

The following excerpts are from R. v. Covey (2001), in which the court held Covey was a "vexatious litigant," meaning he can't file further cases without court approval because he has filed so many bogus cases in the past. Note that this appears to be a transcript of a hearing at which the court read out its judgment in the case, not a formal written opinion. This is why certain remarks by Mr. Covey ("The Applicant") appear in the excerpts themselves. They are presumably not part of the court's actual judgment.

B e f o r e:




1.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: There are before the court two linked applications, the first by Mr Andrew Covey…. [The] issues are: first, whether Mr Covey [has] respectively, habitually and persistently, and without any reasonable grounds, instituted vexatious civil proceedings; [and] secondly, whether the Divisional Court [erred in ruling that he had]….

2.In his application this morning, Mr Covey took the course of stripping off his clothes and throwing water at one member of the court. He has subsequently made oral submissions to the court after giving an undertaking to behave. He has not repeated his misconduct. He has made submissions which have no relevance whatsoever…. However, someone has prepared on his behalf (or he has prepared himself) a detailed [outline] which the court has read.

In case you missed it there, Tip #1 is to remain clothed at all times when before the court. Tip #2 is to refrain from approaching the bench either in person or indirectly by means of some projectile.

Covey claimed he had not been adequately heard by the lower court. The Lord Chief Justice noted that Covey was given all afternoon to argue his case there, but the court was "unsuccessful in [its] attempts to limit Mr Covey's submissions to the afternoon" and let him come back the next day. When the court reconvened at 10 am, Covey presented it with another 60-page brief. The court then "retired to read the document and returned at 10.30 to hear further submissions."

Tip #3: keep it short. Tip #4: if your brief can't keep a reader's attention for more than two minutes per page, you're doing something wrong.

In the lower court, Lord Justice Buxton had also remarked that most of Covey's argument consisted of irrelevant attempts to reopen the underlying disputes in the prior cases. Tip #5 is therefore to focus on the real issue before the court. (Interestingly, there was a difference of opinion as to how many cases he had filed. The opinion mentions 15, but says Covey insisted that "the number of proposed actions had been underestimated by the court" and that there had actually been 54. Tip #6: know when to keep your mouth shut.) Continuing with the judgment, the Lord Chief Justice noted that:

13.Mr Covey's submissions to this court this morning make it only too understandable why Lord Justice Buxton felt it necessary to make those remarks.

14.THE APPLICANT: Get me a jury and see what they say.

Tip #7: do not interrupt the court.

15.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE [continuing to read]: His submissions so far as fact was concerned rest upon an assertion of no relevant evidence having been filed.

16.THE APPLICANT: A load of bollocks.

Tip #8: Refrain from using terms such as "bollocks" (unless bollocks are the real issue before the court).

Pressing on, the Lord Chief Justice then noted that most of Covey's cases had been little more than harassment of one particular family, and that at least one restraining order had been issued against him:

23.Mr Covey had been made the subject of a restraining order under section 5 of the Protection from Harassment Act [of] 1997. The order was made on the basis that he had harassed members of the family … between June and July 1997.

24.THE APPLICANT: Point of order, your Honour. The law was passed on 1 July.

25.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: The order was made —

26.THE APPLICANT: I was out of the country at the time.

27.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Would you please keep quiet?

28.THE APPLICANT: How can I harass them? I wasn't even in the country.

29.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Would you please keep quiet or you will have to leave court?

30.THE APPLICANT: I was just picking up on a point of law, that's all. The law was passed on 1 July.

31.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Mr Covey, would you please keep quiet and not interrupt me?

32.THE APPLICANT: Am I right?

33.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: If you do interrupt me, then you will have to leave court.

34.THE APPLICANT: Please tell this court when the Harassment Act was passed.

35.THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: The court is going to adjourn.

36.THE APPLICANT: Fine. The Harassment Act was passed on 1 July. I was out of the country. How can I harass somebody when I'm out of the country? This is a kangaroo court and you are a bent judge.

(The court adjourned for a short time. The applicant left court.)

See Tips #5-8, supra. Tip #9: If accused of harassment, don't harass the judge about the Harassment Act.

You won't be surprised to learn that Mr. Covey lost, but his brave and stupid crusade has at least provided these important lessons. And for that we thank him.