In a recent decision the High Court has taken a strong line on the question of time limits for bringing claims. This case is one that should be studied closely by Solicitors as well as by Professional Indemnity Insurers.
In the case of (1) Anthony John Page (2) Terence Albert Page (Administrators of the Estate of Anne Harriet Page & Aubrey Wilfrid Page) v (1) Hewetts Solictors (2) Christopher Robert Fuller (2013) the Chancery Division of the High Court ruled that a claim had not been "brought" for the purposes of the relevant time limit where the claimants' request to the court for the issue of the claim, submitted on the last possible day, had not been accompanied by the appropriate court fee.
It was common ground that the time limit for bringing a claim in this case was 6 February 2009. The claimants denied that they had failed to lodge a claim in time stating that they sent documents to the court in December 2008. They stated that any problems with the receipt of those documents arose as a result of them going astray within the court system. They also said that the court had received a court fee of £990 by 6 February 2009.
The High Court decided that inclusion of the appropriate court fee was an essential element and that £990 was not sufficient. The appropriate fee given the nature of this case should have been £1,390. The shortfall was paid by the claimants some time later in February 2009. Accordingly the failure to pay the appropriate fee meant that they had not done all that was required of them, and they had left it too late to correct the error, which was a risk they unilaterally undertook. Accordingly the claim was not "brought" within the relevant time period for limitation purposes.
The facts of this case are something of a "perfect storm". Driven by commercial imperatives many firms will leave steps such as the recording of critical dates and raising of cheques for court fees to junior lawyers and support staff. This case demonstrates clearly that it is vitally important that these matters are given high priority and that where possible important steps are dealt with well in advance of cut-off dates so that a suitable margin of error is built in to cover for the vicissitudes of litigation. If these matters are not attended to then professional negligence claims are likely to follow.