Human Rights Time Bar

December 6th, 2017 by James Goudie KC

Section 7(5)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 provides that proceedings must be brought before the end of the period of one year beginning with the date on which the act complained of took place. In O’Connor v BSB (2017) UKSC 78 the Supreme Court considered whether a discrimination claim was time-barred, and, reversing the Court of Appeal, unanimously held that it was not.

The question which arose in relation to the application of Section 7(5)(a) was whether the bringing of disciplinary proceedings by the Respondent was to be considered a series of discrete acts or a single continuous act. Section 7(5)(a) should not be read narrowly and must be capable of providing an effective and workable rule for situations where the infringement of a Convention right arises from a course of conduct. Leaving a claimant to have recourse only to the discretionary remedy in Section 7(5)(b) is inappropriate.

The alleged infringement of Convention rights in this case arose from a single continuous course of conduct. The essence of the complaint made by the Appellant was the initiation and pursuit of the proceedings to their conclusion. It cannot have been the intention of Parliament that each step should be an “act” to which the one year limitation period should apply. Under Section 7(5)(a) time begins to run from the date when the continuing act ceased, not when it began.

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