High Court: Issuing claim close to limitation should be avoided

In ABC & Ord v The London Borough of Lambeth [2021] EWHC 2057 (QB), the court answers the question as to when proceedings are commenced using the Electronic Working System and highlights the importance of issuing a claim form in a timely manner.

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What is the Electronic Working System?

This system, also known as CE-File, allows litigants to issue claims, make applications, file documents and communicate with the court electronically.   

How can I issue a claim using the Electronic Working System?

In order to issue proceedings via the CE-filing system, registration via the HM Courts & Tribunals E-Filing Service website is necessary (https://efile.cefile-app.com/register/new).  Once registered, it will be possible to file documents, issue claims, make applications and communicate with the court electronically 24/7.

The Case

ABC & Ord v The London Borough of Lambeth [2021] EWHC 2057 (QB) involved a claim for breach of the defendant’s statutory duty under the Data Protection Act 1998, in the context of family/adoption proceedings.

On 17 February 2021, prior to issuance of a claim form, the claimants made an application that their names be anonymised in the proceedings via the Electronic Working System.  They then filed a claim form using the same system on the same date at 4:15 PM.  The claimants then received an automated email at 4:20 PM confirming that the documents had been filed. 

The following day, the claimants received an email from the court rejecting the initial submission of the case documents due to administrative issues with the documents.  The court requested that the claimants re-file the claim form and a sealed copy of the anonymity order via CE-Filing, which they complied with. 

As the proceedings were issued near the limitation deadline, on May 18 2021, the defendant contacted the Queen’s Bench and questioned the precise date and time the issuance of the claim form took place.  They also sought to use this as a defence to the claim.

The Judgment

Deputy Master Grimshaw held that the proceedings had been issued on 17 February 2021. 

Therefore, this case clarifies that the issuance of proceedings via the Electronic Working System occurs when payment of the relevant court fee takes place in accordance with Practice Direction 51O of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.  This means that the claim was issued on 17 February 2021 once payment of the court fee for the claim form and associated documents was made and the automated email confirming receipt of the documentation was sent to the claimants.   

The judge also ruled that any deficiencies in procedure were not sufficient in preventing proceedings being regarded as “issued.”    

Furthermore, although the limitation period was not explicitly addressed by the judge, this case highlights the risks of issuing a claim form at the last minute and urges claimants to commence proceedings within a reasonable time frame.

When should a claim form be issued?

Guidance in regard to this is provided by Practice Direction 51O of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998Paragraph 5.4(1) of the PD states that where payment of a court fee is required to be sent with a document, the date and time of filing on the Electronic Working System, will be deemed to be the date and time at which payment of the court fee is made.

Paragraph 5.4(2) of the PD also states that the data and time of payment determines the date and time of issue for all claim forms and other documents submitted using the Electronic Working System.     

According to paragraphs 5.4(5) and 5.4(7), where the submission of a claim form fails acceptance because the filing error is more serious than an error of procedure, the form will need to be re-submitted and the court fee will need to be paid again for proceedings to be issued.  This will generate a new date and time of issue.  In this case, the filing error was administrative in nature as certain information was omitted from the claim form.  Thus, the claim form did not fail acceptance in this case and these two paragraphs of the PD did not apply.   

What does this case mean for solicitors that miss a deadline?

This case ultimately highlights the significance of adhering to the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 which sets out strict deadlines for parties in terms of filing and serving documentation in relation to claims.  It also emphasises the professional standard that solicitors are required to uphold when performing duties for clients.

“…this case should once again serve as a reminder to litigants that leaving the issue of a claim form to the eleventh hour of limitation is an extremely risky approach to take and should be avoided at all costs.”

Paragraph 49 of ABC & Ord v The London Borough of Lambeth [2021] EWHC 2057 (QB)

Download the Judgment

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LIMITATION ACT 1980 – WARNING

The Limitation Act 1980 sets out strict statutory deadlines within which you must bring litigation claims. Your legal rights will become irreversibly time-barred if you fail to take legal action (or defend a claim on time). Therefore, you should seek specific legal advice about your legal dispute at the very first opportunity so that you understand the time you have left. Failure to take advice or delay in taking action can be fatal to your prospects of success.

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