The High Court has thrown out a ‘wholly frivolous’ contempt application against a solicitor who feared her career was under threat from the action.
Mr Justice Nicklin said the application against experienced solicitor advocate Gillian McGivern ‘borders on vexatious’. It involved alleged breaches of an injunction that were trivial or wholly technical, he said.
The claimants in MBR Acres v McGivern had alleged that the solicitor had crossed into an exclusion zone outside a dog breeding facility in Huntingdon when she went to offer assistance to protestors in May this year.
McGivern accepted she inadvertently entered the exclusion zone but said she had no knowledge the injunction existed. She suggested that by parking in plain sight within that area the implication was that she must have knowingly risked breaking the injunction and sacrificing her 30-year career and home.
She told the court she was ‘falling apart’ as a result of the contempt application and could barely sleep or eat since it was brought. ‘I am so proud to be a lawyer and to have fought for the underdog for 30-plus years. I would not have risked that,’ she said.
The claimants alleged that McGivern was herself a protestor and was bound by the section of the injunction referring to ‘persons unknown’. It was suggested by those bringing the application that McGivern had been made aware of the injunction by being shown it on a police officer’s laptop several weeks earlier.
But the judge said the fundamental issue was whether McGivern would ‘risk everything’ by breaching the injunction and ending her career. He made clear that McGivern was acting only to find out if an injunction was in place. Objectively judged, he added, the alleged breaches of the injunction were ‘trivial’.
The judge said it was difficult to understand the motives behind the claimants’ pursuit of the contempt application, and he noted they failed to send any form of letter before action to McGivern giving her the opportunity to respond.
He added: ‘The court does not grant injunctions to parties to litigation to be used as a weapon against those perceived to be opponents. Once Ms McGivern had provided evidence confirmed by a statement of truth that she had no knowledge of the injunction, the claimants should have taken stock as to the prospect of success of the contempt application and, particularly, whether there was a real prospect of the court imposing any sanction for the alleged breaches.
‘Instead of doing so, the claimants embarked on what proved to be a hopeless attempt to impeach Ms McGivern’s transparently honest evidence by witness summonsing a police officer. This was not a proportionate or even rational way to approach litigation of this seriousness.’
The judge made an order requiring the claimants to obtain court permission before bringing any further contempt application against anyone alleged to be ‘persons unknown’.
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