IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR – THE SUPREMES’ VERSION: WHEN DOES THE LIMITATION PERIOD START TO RUN? (“WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES”)
Regular readers of this blog would reasonably suppose that lawyers like to live dangerously – leaving tasks to the last minute (and sometimes beyond). An example of this can be seen in the judgment today in Matthew & Ors v Sedman & Ors  UKSC 19. The court had to determine whether fractions of a day (arguably even fractions of a second) were relevant when the claimants issued right at the end of a six year limitation period.
“I consider that it would impermissibly transcend practical reality if the stroke of midnight or some infinitesimal division of a second after midnight, led to the conclusion that the concept of an undivided day was no longer appropriate. In that sense this would not only be impermissible metaphysics but also, in this context, such a minimum period of time does not cross the threshold as capable of being recognised by the law. Whether the issue is framed in terms of metaphysics, which the common law eschews, or of the principle that the law does not concern itself with trifling matters, the conclusion is the same: realistically, there is no fraction of a day”
The defendants were former trustees of the claimant trust. In 2008 they should have made a claim against a third party under a scheme of arrangement. That application could have been made up to midnight on Thursday 2nd June 2011. The defendants failed to do so. There was a six year limitation period for the action.
THE ISSUE OF PROCEEDINGS AGAINST THE DEFENDANTS
The claimant trust issued proceedings against the defendants on Monday 5th June 2017. Because proceedings can only be issued when the court is open the key issue was whether Friday 3rd June 2017 was counted in the limitation period. If it was then proceedings were issued in time, if it was not then the action was statute barred.
THE COURT OF APPEAL
The Court of Appeal held that Friday the 3rd June 2011 should be included in the limitation period. In cases where a cause of action accrues part-way through a day then that day is ignored for limitation purposes. The relevant part of the action was issued out of time.
THE SUPREME COURT UPHELD THE COURT OF APPEAL’S DECISION
The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision. Proceedings were issued out of time. Lord Stephens gave the single judgment.