Laws of Eve | More on time limits for filing civil claims
I had planned to set out the time limits for filing various types of civil claims in this week’s article, but my research highlighted a specific case, which raised several interesting points concerning limitations of actions, so that case will be today’s focus.
The Supreme Court judgment in the case of Douglas and Others v Barclays Bank PLC and Another 2013 JMSC Civil 85 concerned applications by the defendants to strike out the claim brought by beneficiaries of a deceased person’s estate against the trustees and administrators of the estate. The claimants sought an account of trust property, a declaration that the trustee was negligent and to recover damages.
In making the applications to strike out the claim, the defendants alleged that the claims were statute barred by virtue of the Limitations of Actions Act 1881, and that the claim for breach of trust was also barred by virtue of the Trustee Act 1897, because more than six years had passed since the causes of action had arisen
In determining the claim, the learned judge accepted that “... there is no period of limitation in respect of a claim by a beneficiary to recover trust property that has been retained by a trustee and converted to his own use”. For that reason, “... a trustee who had retained trust money and had not accounted for it could not rely on a limitation defence”. However, in the absence of any evidence to suggest that there was basis for an allegation that the trustees had withheld trust property or applied it to their own use, this claim was not one in which the claimants could rely on this exception to the limitation of actions law.
Instead, the judge found that the claim remained subject to the provisions of the Limitations of Actions and Trustee Acts by virtue of which time began to run in respect of the claim after the trustees completed their administration of the estate. In this case, it was important to consider when various causes of action had arisen because “... there may be separate interests under a trust which have different commencement periods where limitation is concerned”.
With respect to the claim for the trustees to render an account, the court accepted that “... such a claim is barred after the expiration of the time limit applicable to the substantive claim ...”. In this case, the substantive claim was the action for breach of trust or negligence, in respect of both of which there was a six-year limitation period from the date the cause of action arose. For that reason, the action for breach of trust also had a six-year limitation period on the basis that, “... a Court of Equity will not, after the lapse of six years without acknowledgement, decree an account between a surviving partner and the estate of a deceased partner has long been settled by various decisions”.
Ultimately, the trustees prevailed in this action and the claim was struck out because the limitation period applied strictly, and was not subject to the exemption under the Trustee Act. However, it remains true that “... trustees are not protected by a limitation defence in cases of fraud or where it is alleged that they retained trust property and converted it to their own use”.