Limitation periods under the law of England and Wales are fixed by the Limitations Act 1980 and are defined as the period of time for which an individual can bring a claim. Once the limitation period has finished there will be a complete defence available to the defendant against any claim made by the claimant that the claim has been brought outside the period of limitation.
The reasoning for this under the laws of England and Wales is that it is contrary to public policy for persons to be perpetually exposed to litigation for wrongful acts. When significant time has passed following a wrongful act certain things may become subject to change such as witnesses memories may fade, documentary evidence available to properly judge the case is less likely to be available or in certain cases even exist.
These above factors may prevent proper justice being served as a consequence of this it is in the public interest that claims become barred by statute after a certain period of time has elapsed.
The Limitations Act 1980 sets up the limitation periods for many different types of claim. However, it is not all encompassing as other statutes may set the limitation period for certain types of specialist claims.
The defence that a certain limitation period has expired in relation to a certain claim must be raised by the defendant. Therefore it will not apply if it is not raised by the defendant.
The various limitation periods for different kinds of claim are prescribed in the Limitation Act 1980. They are as follows:
Claim in relation to a contract limitation period of 6 years
Claims in relation to awards in arbitration limitation period of 6 years
Claims in relation to debt arising under statute limitation period of 6 years
Claims in relation to personal injury limitation period of 3 years
Claims in relation to negligence limitation period of 6 years
Claims in relation to recovery of land limitation period of 12 years
Claims in relation to breach of trust limitation period of 6 years
Claims in relation to tort limitation period of 6 years
Claims in relation to defamation and malicious falsehood limitation period of 1 year
The above list is not a complete list of the limitation periods under the Limitations Act 1980. If you wish to understand the full list of limitation periods or want to know the period for a specific claim you should seek legal advice as it may be provided for in the Limitations Act or alternatively a specialist piece of legislation.
A limitation period will commence at the time that the cause of action becomes active for the claimant. The time starts to run from the earliest time that the legal proceedings first could have been brought. This means that every fact which is required to commence an action must be in existence before the limitation period will start to run.
This means that the last fact which gives rise to the claim must fall within the limitation period. If we take the example of a breach of contract the limitation period will start to run from the date that the breach alleged by the claimant occurred. This would apply regardless of how long ago the contract was entered into. For example the contract may have been entered into 10 years ago but the breach occurred two years into the existence of the contract the claim for breach of contract must then be brought within 6 years of the date the breach occurred.
In certain cases facts in relation to the claim will have been concealed from the claimant by the defendant in this scenario the limitation period will only commence when the claimant becomes aware of these relevant facts or the date that he should have become aware of these relevant facts.
The limitation period for a claim brought under the law of tort would begin at the date on which the damage was suffered by the claimant, rather than the date the claimant became aware of the damage.
The Limitation Act 1980 only applies to civil claims. Whether there is limitation periods set for certain criminal acts will depend upon the specific statute for that type of act. Many serious criminal acts such as murder and rape have no limitation period.
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