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Abuse of process is a common law intentional tort. It is to be distinguished from malicious prosecution, another type of tort that involves misuse of the public right of access to the courts.

The elements of a valid cause of action for abuse of process in most common law jurisdictions are as follows: it is the malicious and deliberate misuse or perversion of regularly issued court process (civil or criminal) not justified by the underlying legal action. "Process" in this context is used in the same sense as in "service of process," where "process" refers to an official summons or other notice issued from a court. The person who abuses process is interested only in accomplishing some improper purpose that is collateral to the proper object of the process and that offends justice, such as an unjustified arrest or an unfounded criminal prosecution. Subpoenas to testify, attachments of property, executions on property, garnishments, and other provisional remedies are among the types of "process" considered to be capable of abuse.

Principle

The principles which lead to a finding of an abuse of process in the UK were stated in Johnson v. Gore Wood & Co [2000] UKHL 65; [2002] 2 AC 1, by Lord Bingham at 30-1.

“The underlying public interest is … that there should be finality in litigation and that a party should not be twice vexed in the same matter. This public interest is reinforced by the current emphasis on efficiency and economy in the conduct of litigation, in the interests of the parties and the public as a whole. The bringing of a claim or the raising of a defence in later proceedings may, without more, amount to abuse if the court is satisfied (the onus being on the party alleging abuse) that the claim or defence should have been raised in the earlier proceedings if it was to be raised at all. I would not accept that it is necessary, before abuse may be found, to identify any additional element such as a collateral attack on a previous decision or some dishonesty, but where those elements are present the later proceedings will be much more obviously abusive, and there will rarely be a finding of abuse unless the later proceeding involves what the court regards as unjust harassment of a party. It is, however, wrong to hold that because a matter could have been raised in earlier proceedings it should have been, so as to render the raising of it in later proceedings necessarily abusive. That is to adopt too dogmatic an approach to what should in my opinion be a broad, merits-based judgment which takes account of the public and private interests involved and also takes account of all the facts of the case, focusing attention on the crucial question whether, in all the circumstances, a party is misusing or abusing the process of the court by seeking to raise before it the issue which could have been raised before. As one cannot comprehensively list all possible forms of abuse, so one cannot formulate any hard and fast rule to determine whether, on given facts, abuse is to be found or not … Properly applied, and whatever the legitimacy of its descent, the rule has in my view a valuable part to play in protecting the interests of justice.”

Cases

  • David Harris v. The Society of Lloyd's [2008] EWHC 1433 (Comm)

See also








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