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Mankit Kaur-Heer

Standing Still! – Can time ever stand still in legal matters?

By Manjit Kaur-Heer

When a legal dispute arises you have to consider whether you are still within time to issue court proceedings. In legal circles this is known as a “limitation period.” It is the date by which court proceedings must be issued if more amicable methods of resolving the dispute have failed. 

If the limitation date has gone then the other side can raise a “limitation defence”, namely that your claim is out of time, or simply put, too late. If that defence is raised and the limitation date has gone then your claim will fail. No matter how good your claim you have lost the right to any remedy that a court might have provided.

Limitation periods differ based on the type of claim. Some periods are short, for instance 3 months in some employment matters or 6 months for Inheritance Act claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Other periods are longer for instance 3 years for personal injury claims, 6 years for professional negligence or breach of contract claims and as much as 12 years for certain matters addressed by Deed. There are also cases where a set limitation period may not apply but the other side claims “laches” being delay in bringing a claim.

Limitation starts to run when a “cause of action,” being the thing you are complaining about occurs. A solicitor will consider the question of when did time start to run? In personal injury matters it starts when the injury occurred. In Inheritance Act claims it starts when a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration issues.

Sometimes the limitation date may have passed by the time legal advice is sought. A solicitor will then consider whether the primary limitation period might have been extended by “date of knowledge”. It is important not to rely on this but it might save a claim that initially seems too late.

Sometimes the limitation date may not have gone but is imminent when legal advice is sought. A solicitor will then consider whether proceedings should be issued even though they may not have the time to prepare the case or whether a “standstill agreement” is preferable. Badly prepared court proceedings may cause wasted costs not to mention stress. A “standstill agreement” if the other side agree to it may be an option. It will enable parties to try and negotiate an outcome and save costs but the standstill agreement must be properly drafted for it to work.

I should add that it is up to a defendant to decide whether they are going to raise a limitation defence. They do not have to but in my experience it would be extremely surprising for a defendant not to raise a defence that was open to them to do so!

This article is not intended to provide legal advice. If you require legal advice on this complex issue then it is imperative that you consult a solicitor without delay so that advice relevant to your circumstances is provided.

For further advice please contact Manjit Kaur-Heer or Lorraine Walker at Willsons Solicitors by telephone on 024 -76387821 or by email to mkaur-heer@willsonslegal.co.uk or lwalker@willsonslegal.co.uk

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