The Court of Appeal has handed down judgment in Gopee v The Crown Court at Southwark  EWCA Civ 881, providing important guidance as to the circumstances in which a civil restraint order (“CRO”) can be made without an oral hearing, as well as making a fresh General CRO (“GCRO”) against a litigant in person, Dharam Gopee.
Various proceedings involving Mr Gopee and his money lending companies have been ongoing for many years, including in the County Court, Crown Court and Court of Appeal. The Financial Conduct Authority (‘FCA’) has previously prosecuted Mr Gopee, who in February 2018 was found guilty of unlicensed trading (under the Consumer Credit Act) and unauthorised trading (under Financial Services and Markets Act) and sentenced to 42 months imprisonment. The FCA also obtained a Confiscation Order against Mr Gopee in December 2019 and in July 2021 obtained a remedial injunction under section 380 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 requiring the removal of approximately 625 charges, notices and restrictions registered against consumers’ properties at Her Majesty’s Land Registry (see here).
In the present case, a GCRO had been made against Mr Gopee without notice and without a hearing in October 2019. Mr Gopee had applied to have the GCRO set aside, but that application was also dealt with and dismissed without an oral hearing. Mr Gopee appealed against both orders on the basis that he ought to have been given an oral hearing before a GCRO was made and before his application to set it aside was dismissed. Mr Gopee relied upon a 2013 Court of Appeal decision (Deeds v Various Respondents  EWCA Civ 1678) suggesting that there was a “presumption in favour of an oral hearing”.
The FCA was joined to the appeal as an interested party and was represented by Craig Ulyatt of Fountain Court (who has represented the FCA throughout the section 380 proceedings regarding Mr Gopee) and Martin Evans KC of 33 Chancery Lane (who has represented the FCA in the confiscation proceedings against Mr Gopee). Mr Ulyatt and Mr Evans KC shared the advocacy in the Court of Appeal with Mr Ulyatt making submissions on the question of whether a fresh GCRO should be made against Mr Gopee.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal (Sir Geoffrey Vos MR, Nicola Davies and Birss LJJ) confirmed that courts are entitled to make CROs on their own initiative and without a hearing in appropriate cases, so long as the order includes the CPR 3.3(5) safeguard of an unfettered right to apply to set the order aside. The Court departed from the previous guidance in Deeds and recognised that the circumstances in which it is appropriate to make a CRO without a hearing are not as uncommon as one might expect. The Court accepted the submission that the case for granting a fresh GCRO against Mr Gopee was “overwhelming” and made a fresh GCRO for the maximum period of three years.