Reference:  EWHC 1215 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 26 May 2010
Summary: Libel - Slander - Limitation period - Disapplication of limitation period - s.32A Limitation Act 1980 - Appeal
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Instructing Solicitors: Petersfields LLP for the Claimant; Thompsons for the Defendant
In June 2009 B had, by way of a Part 8 claim, applied for a order disapplying the limitation period in respect of an allegation by N that B had forged cheques. The allegation was made at ASLEF’s Annual Assembly in 2006, following B’s successful unfair dismissal claim, and subsequently published in a bound volume. B submitted that he was not aware of the words until the end of September 2008 and that the delay in making the application was due to limited funds as he could not obtain CFA representation until March 2009 when the costs of an earlier successful slander action were settled. The Master refused permission, on the ground that the 9 month delay was excessive.
(1) Did the Master err in giving weight to the fact of the loss of limitation defence?
(2) Did the Master’s decision fall outside the range of reasonably possible conclusions open to him?
Dismissing the appeal:
The Master had looked at the matter in the round, as was appropriate. It was legitimate to weigh up whether there remained any need for further vindication in light of the earlier actions, against N’s loss of the limitation defence. In the unusual circumstances of the case the Master was entitled to exercise his discretion in the way he did.
The Claimant drew Eady J’s attention to Cain v Francis  3 WLR 551, a personal injury case in which the Court of Appeal had revisited the principles upon which courts should exercise their discretion to disapply limitation periods. It was held in that case that relevant prejudice to the defendant only arose if his ability to defend the claim on its merits was adversely affected by the passage of time, and the mere loss of a limitation defence was not to be regarded in itself as ‘prejudice’ to the defendant. The editors of the most recent edition of Duncan & Neill had submitted that in light of this decision “the approach to be adopted in defamation cases may now fall to be reviewed.”
The Judge, however, rejected the submission that Cain represented, or should lead to, a change in approach in defamation as well as PI claims. Observing that different policy considerations and limitation periods apply in those causes of action, Eady J confirmed that in defamation claims the approach sanctioned in Steedman v BBC  EMLR 318 remains unaffected.