Human Rights Claim Time Limit

July 26th, 2016 by James Goudie KC

As is well known, Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 provides that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right, and Section 7(5) provides that proceedings in which a person claims that a public authority has acted in a way which is made unlawful by Section 6(1) must be brought before the end of (a) the period of one year “beginning with the date on which the act complained of took place” or (b) such longer period as the court or tribunal considers equitable having regard to all the circumstances.  By Section 6(6) “act” includes a failure to act.  In O’Connor v Bar Standards Board [2016] EWCA Civ 775 breach of Article 14 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 6 was alleged.  The claim was held to be barred by Section 7(5).  Lord Dyson MR observed:

“19.      … As a matter of ordinary language, the wording of section 7(5)(a) contemplates that an “act” is a single event which occurred on a single date. No express provision is made for an act which extends over a period of time. There is no difficulty in applying this approach in the paradigm case of a single act which takes place at a clearly identifiable point of time. The act should not be confused with its consequences. If it takes place more than one year before proceedings are brought, the claim is barred by section 7(5)(a) even if its consequences do not appear until later. There are also cases where the complaint is a failure to act. It may be difficult to determine when a failure to act occurs. This problem does not, however, arise in the present case.

20. There are also cases … where the question is whether the acts complained of are to be regarded as a single continuing act or as a series of discrete acts with continuing consequences. … it is not always easy to decide how to classify the acts in such a case. It will depend on the particular circumstances and the nature of the particular complaint.”

A decision to resist an appeal, and the implementation of that decision could not sensibly be seen as a continuation of the original decision to prosecute.

Elias LJ said:

“37.      …. On the appellant’s analysis, many acts which are plainly one-off would retrospectively be converted into continuing acts simply by virtue of being challenged. Take a case where a person claims a social welfare benefit, is refused, and challenges that decision by a process of internal appeal. The department can at all times revoke the decision and pay the benefit. The decision to refuse the benefit itself could not properly be described as a continuing act; it is manifestly a single act, albeit with potentially continuing adverse consequences. Yet on the appellant’s analysis it becomes a continuing act once it is challenged simply by virtue of the fact that the appeal is not conceded, with the consequence that time does not begin to run. I can envisage situations where the fact that there is an internal appeal may well be material to the question whether or not time should be extended, but it cannot in my view delay the commencement of the limitation period itself.”

Elias LJ indicated that the position might be different if what was alleged were continuing systemic discrimination.

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