The case of Kaur v S Russell & Sons Ltd  Q.B. 36 enshrined the principle that if the time limit for making a claim expires on a non-working day, a claimant can nevertheless bring a claim the next working day. The recent High Court decision of John Noel Croke v (1) Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government (2) Aylesbury Vale District Council (2016) considered whether the same principle applies to a claimant who is physically prevented from accessing the court office on the day of expiry.
The Claimant sought to quash a planning inspector’s decision pursuant to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The time-limit for issuing the claim form was six weeks and the Claimant was fully aware that the last day for filing was 23 March 2016.
He intended to hand-deliver the claim form on that day but he missed his train so he emailed the papers over to an acquaintance, Mr Miller, who lived near to the court, and requested that he file it. Mr Miller arrived at the court office at 4.25pm, five minutes before it closed, meaning that the court staff refused entry.
The Claimant then went to the court in person the following day at 3.30pm. Unfortunately he was not seen until 5pm at which point he was informed that he had used the wrong form. He was told to return the next day which was a Good Friday. The Claim Form was eventually issued the first working day after Good Friday.
The Defendant applied to strike out the Claimant’s claim on the basis that it was issued out of time. The claim was struck out on the papers but permission was given for an oral renewal. At the hearing the Claimant submitted that, in the circumstances, the period for filing the application should be extended to the next working day pursuant to Kaur v S Russell & Sons Ltd.
Judge Robinson distinguished Kaur and upheld the decision to strike out the Claimant’s claim.
Her decision was largely influenced by public policy considerations. In particular she considered the fact that “access is already cut down by the fact that the court office is not open until midnight on the day the time limit expires [but that] time is treated as expiring on the last day notwithstanding the fact that the litigant is deprived of several hours” [paragraph 28]. Further, that “litigants must anticipate security procedures and the need to obey the directions of security staff” [paragraph 35].
She concluded that “the interpretation proposed by the claimant suffers from the fundamental defect that it provides no certainty at all, either as to the nature of the event which is sufficient to bring the principle into play, or to third parties who may be affected. Further, it is one without precedent and is likely to cause confusion to litigants and others” [paragraph 38].
In obiter, Judge Robinson appears to suggest that the result would be the same even if the court office was closed due to unforeseen circumstances [paragraph 32].
The decision is a demonstrably strict application of the authorities to date and potential claimants seeking to bring claims at the end of expiry of limitation must be particularly diligent.
The full judgment is available at https://www.lawtel.com/UK/FullText/AC0152108QBD.pdf.