The Court sends a strong message to vexatious litigants

The High Court in Pretoria has declared a man who brought eight claims against his partner a vexatious litigant. File photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • A father who filed eight petitions against his girlfriend in divorce-related cases has been declared a vexatious litigant by the High Court in Pretoria.
  • He was ordered to pay the costs awarded against him in four cases which he had not paid.
  • He was also ordered to pay 120,000 rand as security in an ongoing custody case if he wishes to proceed with the proceedings.

A father who initiated numerous divorce-related litigation has been declared a vexatious litigant and barred from bringing new petitions against his estranged wife without a judge’s approval.

Pretoria High Court Judge Mashudu Munzhelele also ordered that if the man wanted to press charges further on any matter, he must first pay the costs orders awarded against him in four cases he did not had so far not been paid.

And he was ordered to pay 120,000 rand in bail for an ongoing custody case over the couple’s children.

Judge Munzhelele said the father had “abused the legal process” and ordered him to pay punitive costs in his ex-wife’s request to declare him a vexatious litigant.

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The couple married in 2001 and had two children. They divorced in 2014 but remarried the following year. But soon after, the woman was granted a protective order.

Over the next six months, the husband filed four petitions in the High Court seeking to have the order set aside, all of which were dismissed or struck out with orders requiring him to pay the costs.

He initiated a total of eight demands, including a claim for return of personal property, a claim to remove a business, and a request to remove his name as the owner of the property in which they lived.

He alleged that she had appropriated trust property and he sued her, on behalf of the trust, to recover it.

He also initiated divorce proceedings, which she opposed.

Read the full judgment here.

In April 2016, the woman was served with two mysterious court orders: an interim order overturning the protective order and a divorce order, incorporating a change in parental rights which had apparently been granted in March of that year.

The wife was unaware that the divorce had even been listed for hearing.

She made an urgent request and Judge Sulet Potterill overturned the mysterious divorce order and reinstated the protective order.

The couple finally finalized their divorce in September 2019, with a settlement agreement stipulating the terms of shared residence for the children.

In December, the man was back in court seeking an order ending his ex-wife’s parental rights and responsibilities, alleging she ‘didn’t care’ because one of the children went to the school after another learner contracted Covid-19.

It was then that the ex-wife launched a vexatious litigation procedure.

She said she was dragged through the courts unnecessarily, knowing that he would not pay the claims fees when he lost. He wanted to drain her financially, she said.

The man said it was an attempt to restrict his right of access to the courts.

He accused her of embezzling funds and buying properties behind his back.

A vexatious litigant

Judge Munzhelele said that to declare him a vexatious litigant, the legislation required proof, on a balance of probabilities, that he had consistently sued without reasonable cause.

She said while the man was right to initially oppose the protective order, what followed was an “abuse of the justice system for his own purposes without any foundation”.

“He hoped he would eventually find a single judge who would understand him.”

She said it was unclear who granted the mysterious interim order against the protective order overturned by Judge Potterill, who referred the case for investigation because it was “improperly obtained”.

“He used inappropriate means to get what he wanted,” the judge said.

She also said, “The blatant disregard to pay the fee is in my view a significant element of vexation.”

Judge Munzhelele said she could not stop him from pursuing pending demands, such as ending the woman’s parental rights. However, she felt the case was frivolous and without merit. She ordered that he pay R120,000 as security for these charges if he wished to continue.

She said that while the right of access to the courts was protected by the Constitution, this right could be limited and “the petitioner should be protected from this abusive lawsuit aimed at punishing her and exhausting her finances”.

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