Challenges to school admissions criteria and “vexatious litigation”

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, announced that the Government is to amend the rules relating to the Schools Admission Code in England by:

  • stopping objections to a school or local authority’s admissions arrangements from outside the local area;
  • stopping “vexatious complaints against faith schools from secularist campaign groups”; and
  • requiring admissions authorities to consult on their admission arrangements every four years rather than, as at present, every seven years.

Which is a very interesting use of the word “vexatious”. S 42 (Restriction of vexatious legal proceedings) Senior Courts Act 1981 provides that: 

“(1) If, on an application made by the Attorney General under this section, the High Court is satisfied that any person has habitually and persistently and without any reasonable ground—

(a) instituted vexatious civil proceedings, whether in the High Court or the family court or any inferior court, and whether against the same person or against different persons; or

(b) made vexatious applications in any civil proceedings, whether in the High Court or the family court or any inferior court, and whether instituted by him or another, or

(c) instituted vexatious prosecutions (whether against the same person or different persons),

the court may, after hearing that person or giving him an opportunity of being heard, make a civil proceedings order, a criminal proceedings order or an all proceedings order.”

“Vexatious” is a term of art: the guidance on vexatious litigation issued by HM Courts & Tribunals Service defines it like this:

“Vexatious litigants are individuals who persistently take legal action against others in cases without any merit, who are forbidden from starting civil cases in courts without permission” [our emphasis]

In a tweet, the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, Andrew Copson, pointed out that the BHA had won 41 out of its 42 challenges to school admission arrangements. We should have thought that, on the test as defined by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, if you win the case then, by definition, your action cannot have been vexatious.

DfE seems to think that what “vexatious” actually means is “damned annoying”. Moreover, if a particular school’s admission arrangements did not survive challenge then they must surely have been contrary to the DfE School Admission Code (or, in lawyer-speak, “illegal”).

Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington

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Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington, “Challenges to school admissions criteria and ‘vexatious litigation'” in Law & Religion UK, 26 January 2016, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2016/01/26/challenges-to-school-admissions-criteria-and-vexatious-litigation/

3 thoughts on “Challenges to school admissions criteria and “vexatious litigation”

  1. “Vexatious litigants are individuals who persistently take legal action against others in cases without any merit, who are forbidden from starting civil cases in courts without permission” [our emphasis].

    The British Humanist Association, Andrew Copson, pointed out that the BHA had won 41 out of its 42 challenges to school admission arrangements. We should have thought that, on the test as defined by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, if you win the case then, by definition, your action cannot have been vexatious.

    That sounds to me like game set and match to the BHA (and the NSS).

    Has anyone got a defence for this blatant abuse of power to defend the indefensible?
    Alan Rogers

  2. Pingback: Vexatious litigants and the consistory courts | Law & Religion UK

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