The established law on limitation periods looks set for
a radical change following the Government's announcement on 16 July 2002
that it accepts in principle the Law Commission's proposals for reform of
the law on limitation of actions for civil claims. The Government has said
it plans to introduce new legislation after further consideration and when
the opportunity arises.
Broadly, under the proposals, a claim would have to be brought within a
period of three years from knowledge of the cause of action with a
long-stop period of ten years from accrual of the cause of action, after
which a claim could not be brought. The Government believes this will
provide greater clarity and certainty in the law by unifying the various
disparate periods of time in which claimants currently have to bring
claims in a wide range of civil proceedings.
Problems with the Limitation Act 1980
In a consultation paper published in 1998, the Law Commission described
the current law on limitation as unfair, complex, uncertain and outdated.
The Limitation Act 1980 makes different provisions in respect of different
causes of action, and it is not always clear into which category a cause
of action falls. The date on which the limitation period starts to run
does not always take account of the claimant's knowledge of the relevant
facts, leading to cases of unfairness, and provisions relating to
deliberate concealment have not worked well. Indeed, one recent example of
the uncertainties in relation to the Limitation Act 1980 was the Court of
Appeal decision in Brocklesby v Armitage Guest  1 All ER 172
the effect of which was that under section 32 of the Act a professional
subject to a claim for negligent advice would never have a valid
limitation defence. This was reversed by the House of Lords in April 2002
in Cave v Robinson Jarvis & Rolf  UKHL 18, but caused
much confusion and concern in the meantime.
The Law Commission's proposals
Following a consultation period, the Law Commission's final
recommendations were set out in its Report on Limitation of Actions
published in July 2001.
It recommended that the Limitation Act 1980 be repealed and replaced
with a new Act setting out a wholly new core limitation regime for the
majority of claims. This core limitation regime, which will apply to the
majority of claims for a remedy for a wrong, or for enforcement of a
right, and to claims for restitution, would introduce a primary limitation
period of three years...