Comment: “I would have found such power useful when I was a judge.” Stan Billingsley


The following excerpts are from R. v. Covey (2001), in which the court held

Covey was a “vexatious litigant,” meaning he can’t file further cases without

court approval because he has filed so many bogus cases in the past. Note that this appears to be a transcript of a hearing at which the court read out its judgment in the case, not a formal written opinion. This is why certain remarks by Mr. Covey (“The Applicant”) appear in the excerpts themselves. They are presumably not part of the court’s actual judgment.


B e f o r e:








1. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: There are before the court two linked

applications, the first by Mr Andrew Covey…. [The] issues are: first, whether

Mr Covey [has] respectively, habitually and persistently, and without any

reasonable grounds, instituted vexatious civil proceedings; [and] secondly,

whether the Divisional Court [erred in ruling that he had]….


2. In his application this morning, Mr Covey took the course of stripping

off his clothes and throwing water at one member of the court. He has

subsequently made oral submissions to the court after giving an undertaking to

behave. He has not repeated his misconduct. He has made submissions which have

no relevance whatsoever…. However, someone has prepared on his behalf (or he

has prepared himself) a detailed [outline] which the court has read.


In case you missed it there, Tip #1 is to remain clothed at all times when

before the court. Tip #2 is to refrain from approaching the bench either in

person or indirectly by means of some projectile.


Covey claimed he had not been adequately heard by the lower court. The Lord

Chief Justice noted that Covey was given all afternoon to argue his case there,

but the court was “unsuccessful in [its] attempts to limit Mr Covey’s

submissions to the afternoon” and let him come back the next day. When the court

reconvened at 10 am, Covey presented it with another 60-page brief. The court

then “retired to read the document and returned at 10.30 to hear further



Tip #3: keep it short. Tip #4: if your brief can’t keep a reader’s attention for

more than two minutes per page, you’re doing something wrong.


In the lower court, Lord Justice Buxton had also remarked that most of Covey’s

argument consisted of irrelevant attempts to reopen the underlying disputes in

the prior cases. Tip #5 is therefore to focus on the real issue before the

court. (Interestingly, there was a difference of opinion as to how many cases he

had filed. The opinion mentions 15, but says Covey insisted that “the number of

proposed actions had been underestimated by the court” and that there had

actually been 54. Tip #6: know when to keep your mouth shut.) Continuing with

the judgment, the Lord Chief Justice noted that:


13. Mr Covey’s submissions to this court this morning make it only too

understandable why Lord Justice Buxton felt it necessary to make those remarks.


14. THE APPLICANT: Get me a jury and see what they say.


Tip #7: do not interrupt the court.


15. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE [continuing to read]: His submissions so far as

fact was concerned rest upon an assertion of no relevant evidence having been



16. THE APPLICANT: A load of bollocks.


Tip #8: Refrain from using terms such as “bollocks” (unless bollocks are the

real issue before the court).


Pressing on, the Lord Chief Justice then noted that most of Covey’s cases had

been little more than harassment of one particular family, and that at least one

restraining order had been issued against him:


23. Mr Covey had been made the subject of a restraining order under section

5 of the Protection from Harassment Act [of] 1997. The order was made on the

basis that he had harassed members of the family … between June and July 1997.


24. THE APPLICANT: Point of order, your Honour. The law was passed on 1



25. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: The order was made –


26. THE APPLICANT: I was out of the country at the time.


27. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Would you please keep quiet?


28. THE APPLICANT: How can I harass them? I wasn’t even in the country.


29. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Would you please keep quiet or you will have to

leave court?


30. THE APPLICANT: I was just picking up on a point of law, that’s all. The

law was passed on 1 July.


31. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Mr Covey, would you please keep quiet and not

interrupt me?


32. THE APPLICANT: Am I right?


33. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: If you do interrupt me, then you will have to

leave court.


34. THE APPLICANT: Please tell this court when the Harassment Act was



35. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: The court is going to adjourn.


36. THE APPLICANT: Fine. The Harassment Act was passed on 1 July. I was out

of the country. How can I harass somebody when I’m out of the country? This is a

kangaroo court and you are a bent judge.


(The court adjourned for a short time. The applicant left court.)


See Tips #5-8, supra. Tip #9: If accused of harassment, don’t harass the judge

about the Harassment Act.


You won’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Covey lost, but his brave and stupid

crusade has at least provided these important lessons. And for that we thank



March 21, 2012 in Appellate Practice


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