Legal claims may be barred permanently if not brought in time, under the provisions of the Limitation Act 1980 and associated legislation and court rules. The High Court has recently held in Page and another v Hewetts Solicitors and another  that a failure to pay the right court fee within the limitation period at the start of the claim meant that the claim was time-barred.
The claimants, administrators of their parents’ estate, alleged that the defendants, a firm of solicitors instructed by the estate, had made a secret profit on a sale of the estate’s principal asset, in breach of their duties to the estate. The alleged cause of action arose on 6 February 2003. However proceedings were not issued until much later, in 2009. The limitation period provided under the Act for this type of claim is six years from the date the cause of action arose.
The claimants’ new solicitors said that they had sent a claim form, a cheque for £900 which they calculated to be the correct court fee for issuing the claim and accompanying documents by document exchange to the court on 3 December 2008. The court did not acknowledge receipt so they sent a further letter with the same enclosures, on 4 February 2009. The documents were deemed to have been received by the court on 6 February 2009, the last day of the permitted limitation period.
Subsequently, the court wrote to the claimants’ solicitors to advise that the correct court fee was in fact £1,390. The claimants’ solicitors paid the correct fee on 17 February 2009, after the limitation period had expired. In determining whether the claim had been issued in time, the court held that the claimants’ solicitors had not done everything reasonably required of them to ensure the claim was issued because they had failed to provide the court with the correct fee. The claim was therefore time-barred.
The case is a useful re-statement of the law relating to the issue of claims and limitation periods. Clients and their solicitors need to work together effectively to ensure that the various steps required to be completed in order for a claim to be issued are completed well in advance of the expiry of the limitation period to avoid similar outcomes.
If you would like more information on this case or its implications please contact Julian Johnstone, head of Druces LLP’s Commercial Litigation team.