A former publican has made legal history after accepting ‘substantial’ damages to settle a civil abuse of process claim – a cause of action last successfully sued upon 160 years ago, his lawyers have said.
Geoffrey Monks brought a High Court claim against the now-disbanded East Northamptonshire Council (ENC) in 2019, alleging abuse of process following his prosecution more than two decades ago over alleged food safety offences at his pub, the Snooty Fox in Lowick, Northamptonshire.
He claimed the council ‘embarked on a vendetta’ against him after he asked a ‘prominent local solicitor’, who he said was the ‘lover’ of the council’s then-chief executive, to leave the pub, which allegedly prompted her to complain she suffered food poisoning.
Monks was convicted in 2000 and ordered to pay a £13,500 fine and £8,300 costs. He spent two months in prison in 2003 when he was unable to pay. His conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2015, following a referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
In his claim, the 67-year-old alleged that ENC’s actions amounted to an abuse of process as a result of what his barrister Paul Mitchell QC described as the ‘outrageous abuse of power by its chief executive’, who is said to have made the final decision to prosecute. Mitchell said ENC ‘did not deny’ that it ‘persecuted [Monks] because he had offended a powerful local solicitor who was a lover of ENC’s chief executive’.
North Northamptonshire Council, which took over ENC’s operations and liabilities in April, has now agreed to pay damages to Monks and will apologise for ENC’s actions in a statement in open court, Monks’ solicitors Laytons ETL Global said.
Monks’ case is only the third time in English legal history – and the first time since 1861 – that a claimant has successfully brought a civil claim to recover damages for the tort of abuse of process, the firm added.
Geraint Thomas, head of Laytons ETL Global’s disputes team, said: ‘This was, thankfully, a highly unusual case which, of course, settled. The vindication and compensation achieved by our client was, nonetheless, based on asserting a cause of action that has not successfully been sued upon since Charles Dickens’s lifetime.
‘This is also the first time in English legal history that abuse of process has been admitted in a case that does not involve extortion. I hope it will give other non-CPS prosecuting authorities pause for reflection before embarking on disproportionate actions.’
North Northamptonshire Council leader Jason Smithers said: ‘East Northamptonshire Council’s decision to prosecute Dr Monks in relation to the Snooty Fox was an abuse of process and should never have occurred. It is accepted that East Northamptonshire Council’s actions caused serious personal injury, loss, and damage to him over a period of more than 20 years, and I sincerely apologise for those actions.’