As with any institutional process, the court system can be abused by individuals to frustrate and harass innocent parties for nefarious purposes. This generally happens when such individuals regularly sue other on baseless grounds. Fortunately, those on the receiving end of such lawsuits have a remedy.
Section 18 of the Supreme Court Act empowers the court to prevent a person from starting a lawsuit without prior permission of the court by providing that:
If, on application by any person, the court is satisfied that a person has habitually, persistently and without reasonable grounds, instituted vexatious legal proceedings in the Supreme Court or in the Provincial Court against the same or different persons, the court may, after hearing that person or giving him or her an opportunity to be heard, order that a legal proceeding must not, without leave of the court, be instituted by that person in any court.
This section gives the court broad powers to control its own process. Nevertheless, it is a power that is to be used sparingly and only in the appropriate cases. In deciding whether or not to exercise that power, the court must balance allowing open access to the courts with the need to prevent the abuse of that right.
Hallmarks of a vexatious proceeding include:
- bringing one or more actions to determine an issue which has already been determined by a court of competent jurisdiction;
- it is obvious that the action cannot succeed, would lead to no possible good, or no reasonable person can reasonably expect to obtain relief;
- the action is brought for an improper purpose, including the harassment and oppression of other parties by multifarious proceedings brought for purposes other than the assertion of legitimate rights;
- the grounds and issues in the first proceeding have been rolled forward into subsequent actions and repeated and supplemented, often with actions brought against the lawyers who have acted for or against the litigant in earlier proceedings;
- the person who instituted the proceedings has failed to pay the costs of the unsuccessful proceedings; and
- the person has persistently taken unsuccessful appeals.