When the clock strikes midnight there is no more time to go to court!
08 March 2018
In Matthew & Ors v Sedman & Ors  EWHC 3527 (Ch) the court has had to decide when the limitation period ends on a claim where the cause of action arose on the stroke of midnight.
The defendants, who were professional trustees, had until Thursday, 2nd June 2011 to commence a claim on behalf of the claimants, who were the trust beneficiaries. The defendants’ failure to commence a claim within the time period gave rise to claim by the claimants against the defendants.
The claimants’ claim was issued on Monday, 5th June 2017, which was the first working day when the courts were open after Saturday 3rd June 2017 – the date on which the claimants contended was the last day of the six year limitation period. The claimants argued that the day on which the cause of action arises is excluded from calculating the limitation period. In this matter, the claimants argued that the cause of action arose at some point between 2nd and 3rd June 2011 and therefore the limitation period ran from 4th June 2011 to 3rd June 2017, and as the 3rd June 2017 was a Saturday, a claim issued on Monday 5th June 2017 was still not time barred.
The Defendant’s argued that the cause of action was complete as soon as 2nd June 2011 ended, and accordingly the limitation period ran from 3rd June 2011 to 2nd June 2011. Therefore the last day to issue the claim was Friday 2nd June 2017.
The judge drew the distinction between a cause of action arising from a physical event, where the limitation period does not begin until the following day, and the situation where the cause of action arises from an irremediable failure to take action on a particular date the limitation period runs from the start of the very next day. In the present case, the judge agreed with the defendants that the claim was time barred.
This case clarifies the rules for calculating the limitation period for different types of claims, which can be extremely important where claims have not been commenced until the last possible moment. This case also provides a salutary warning that for claimants to take advice, as sometimes the delay to bring a claim forward can provide a complete defence to an otherwise viable claim.