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An important lesson in getting limitation right

In Access for Living v London Borough of Lewisham [1] the court refused to grant an extension of time where the claimant’s solicitor had mistakenly equated a standstill for the purposes of contract award under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 with a standstill for limitation purposes. The parties agreed to extend the automatic ten day standstill period during which the defendant could not enter into new contracts. By the time the claimant issued proceedings within that extended time period, the 30 day limitation period had already expired and the claimant applied to the court for an extension of time.

The court may extend the 30 day time limit (up to a longstop of three months) where it considers that there is “good reason” for doing so. The court picked out the following key principles from the line of previous cases:

  • There is no exhaustive list of factors that may (or may not) be a good reason to extend time. The list is open-ended.
  • Matters that are at the very least unlikely to be considered by the court to be a good reason include ignorance of the law, commercial considerations, carelessness including by lawyers, lack of urgency and engagement in pre-action investigations or correspondence.
  • One matter that is clearly not in itself a good reason to extend time is that the extension sought is a short one. Where there is some other good reason to extend time, the shortness of the extension may be a relevant factor but it is not sufficient in itself.
  • Similarly lack of prejudice to the defendant is not in itself a good reason to extend time although it may be a relevant factor.
  • A matter that is beyond the control of the applicant may well provide a good reason. While this is the only commonplace situation that the courts have identified as one where there would be a good reason to extend time, that does not preclude there being other factual situations in which there is a good reason to extend time.

This decision highlights to parties, and their advisers, the importance of paying strict attention to procedural requirements and timescales.

[1] [2021] EWHC 3498 (TCC)

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