Byline: ANDREW GILLIGAN
AMONG the more exotic characters in the crevices of the British legalsystem are the so-called "vexatious litigants"obsessive, sometimes actually bonkers, plaintiffs who bring case after spuriouscase until the lawyers and judges are tearing at their wigs in despair.
There is Omorotu Ayovuare, who launched 72 employment tribunal cases in fiveyears alleging racial discrimination.
He would apply for jobs and, when rejected, launch actions in the hope of apayout, even if he was not qualified for the positions and when the personactually appointed was, in fact, black.
There is Andy Covey, who stripped naked in the courtroom and threw water overthe Lord Chief Justice during his appeal against being banned as a vexatiouslitigant. (The appeal failed; so, alas, did Mr Covey's hope of finding himselfin one last lovely legal action, for contempt of court.) And there is even LordFalconernot, of course, the former Lord Chancellor, but a pseudonym adopted by avexatious litigant named Thomas O'Neill.
Now, however, there is a real celebrity in the ranks of Britain's unsuccessfulserial plaintiffs, much better knownand, crucially, much better funded than any of these small-timers.
An Evening Standard investigation has established that Ken Livingstone, themayor of London, has started taking to the higher courts with ever-increasingfrequency but almost complete lack of success. Over the last six years, we havefound, Mr Livingstone has initiated legal action at least eleven times, severalon matters far outside his remitand lost all but one of the cases which have been determined. Six of Ken'scases have been brought within the last 18 months.
The total cost of Mr Livingstone's legal actions to the taxpayer has beenaround [pounds sterling]130 million. And all too often, we have found, the Mayor and his legalteam have been left with nothing to show for it but savage criticism from thebench. A judge in one of Mr Livingstone's actions described his case as"hopeless"
and "totally without merit". In another, the judge called the Mayor's argument"absurd". Mr Livingstone's response was to appeal, at a further cost to Londontaxpayers estimated at approaching [pounds sterling]400,000.
Mr Livingstone has also threatened legal action on a further 17 occasions,including against George Galloway's Respect Party for having the same name asone of his anti-racist festivals. He has himself twice been sued for exceedinghis powers too aggressively.
"Ken has been in court more times than Rumpole of the Bailey," says CouncillorTerry Neville, cabinet member for the environment at Tory-controlled EnfieldCouncil, one of the many organisations against whom the Mayor has lost. "Hejust keeps on losing but he carries on. It doesn't cost him a penny, it's thepoor old London taxpayer who pays." Mr Livingstone's close relationship withm'learned friends is not surprising.
At least twice, judges have arguably saved his political career. The secondtime was in October 2006, when, in the sole victory among the actions he hasinitiated, the High Court overturned his suspension from office, imposed bylocal government watchdogs for insulting an Evening Standard journalist.
The first time, however, Mr Livingstone was rescued by a court defeat. Inautumn 1981, the then new GLC leader was reeling from public hostility over hissupport for terrorist hunger-strikers.
But after the Law Lords ruled against the GLC's popular cheap fares policy,there was a backlash in Mr Livingstone's favour.
he put it himself, "the judgment helped to start an ascent which would turn themost unpopular GLC administration of all time into the most popular".
Mr Livingstone went on to use the courts with some success in his battle toharry the then Thatcher government.
Now, however, and in keeping with the new model Ken, Mr Livingstone's legalguns are often turned on people less powerful than himself, such as London'sborough councils. …