- Alert: Limitation period for defamation claims clarified (Otuo v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain)
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IP & IT analysis: This judgment of the Court of Appeal concerned a claim for defamation brought by the claimant, Mr Otuo (O), in respect of an allegedly slanderous announcement made at a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The respondent, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain (Watchtower) had made a successful application to strike out the claim on the grounds it had been brought one day outside of the limitation period in section 4A of the Limitation Act 1980 (LA 1980) (the strike-out decision). O was granted permission to appeal the strike-out decision on the sole issue of Watchtower’s acquiescence and estoppel. That appeal was unsuccessful. Subsequently, O’s application under section 32A of the LA 1980 to disapply the primary limitation period (which was heard after the strike-out decision and appeal against that decision) was dismissed (the March 2015 decision). Upon O’s second application for permission to appeal the strike-out decision, which was brought out of time, he raised for the first time the point made in Gentoo Group Ltd and another v Hanratty  EWHC 627 (QB) — namely, that the day on which a cause of action accrues is excluded from computation in arriving at the limitation period. That application was treated as an application for permission to re-open the hearing of the appeal against the strike-out decision. The court held that O was correct on limitation and, had he appealed the strike-out decision on the basis of what date the limitation period had expired, he would have succeeded. However, O was refused permission to re-open the appeal on the grounds that, among other things, the inability to pursue the claim had arisen because of O’s failure to take a good point of law (the May 2015 decision). The Court of Appeal heard O’s appeal against the March 2015 decision and the renewal of his application for permission to appeal the May 2015 decision. The renewed application for permission to appeal the May 2015 decision was dismissed on the basis no error of law had been made. However, the appeal against the March 2015 decision was allowed. The March 2015 decision had been based on the incorrect premise that the case had been brought out of time and, therefore, the case for exercising the discretion under section 32A of the LA 1980 was a compelling one.
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