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How long is too long: Part 1

The Limitation Act 1980 (‘the Act’) sets out the period of time within which a person must bring a claim. The basic rule, enshrined in the Act, is that claims founded in tort (except for personal injury claims) and claims founded in simple contract must be commenced within six years of the date on which the cause of action is said to have arisen.

The purpose of having a finite limitation period is to ensure claims are pursued properly and within a reasonable time frame, so that a potential claim isn’t hanging over someone for an indefinite period.

Where an action is founded in tort there is a fallback provision found in section 14A of the Act where the relevant facts aren’t known on the date the cause of action arose. In those circumstances, there is a further three year period (subject to an over-all time limit of fifteen years) from the date of knowledge of the facts; that is to say the person knew or ought to have known enough to have brought a claim.

Furthermore, section 32 of the Act provides for postponement of a limitation period in case of fraud, concealment or mistake. In such cases, the limitation period does not begin to run until the fraud, concealment or mistake has been discovered or could have been discovered with reasonable diligence.

In Siddiqui v The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars of the University of Oxford [2018] EWHC 184 (QB), the claimant issued proceedings relating to what he said was inadequate teaching in the academic year 1999/2000. The claimant said that, as a result of this inadequate teaching, he had failed to obtain a first class degree and that this had a damaging effect on his career and on his health.

One of the issues raised by the defendant was that the claim was being brought out of time, the limitation period having expired several years ago. The claimant answered this point by saying that he had insufficient information before October 2013, when new information had come to light. He said that s14A limitation period commenced from this date. Within three years of this date, he had issued proceedings.

The defendant had previously sought summary judgment but that application was rejected as it was held, amongst other things, that the evidence would need to be heard before a determination could be made on the date on which the claimant should have been sufficiently appraised of the relevant facts for the section 14A limitation period to commence.

The limitation argument became an academic one as the Judge found that the claimant could not make out his case on the merits. However, the Judge went on to consider whether the claimant’s claim had been issued in time. The Judge found that the claimant had sufficient evidence in 2001 to issue his claim, and that the additional evidence which had come to light in October 2013 simply bolstered his position.

The claimant had also argued that information had been deliberately concealed from him when he first sought to investigate this matter in 2000. The Judge rejected this argument, finding no reason for concluding that the defendant had not deliberately concealed facts from the claimant. As such, the claimant’s claim (although it had failed on the merits) was statute-barred.

This article is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. It should not be acted or relied upon and legal advice should be sought before applying any of the information in this article to any facts or circumstances.

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