‘The UK Supreme Court unanimously dismissed an appeal in the ‘midnight deadline’ case of In Matthew & Ors v Sedman & Ors , in which the current trustees of a will trust are suing its former professional trustees for failing to lodge a compensation claim against a third party before the bar date had expired. ‘The case turned on whether a complete undivided day following the expiry of the six-year statutory time limit for actions founded on tort should be included when calculating the limitation period’. (STEP UK News Digest 24.05.2021).
Lord Stephens (with whom Lord Hodge, Lady Arden, Lord Sales and Lord Burrows agreed) stated:
‘14. The relevant limitation periods are set out in materially identical terms in the Limitation Act 1980 for each of the causes of action in these proceedings. Section 2 provides a time limit for actions founded on tort: “An action founded on tort shall not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which the cause of action accrued”. Section 5 makes provision for a time limit for actions founded on simple contract: “An action founded on simple contract shall not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which the cause of action accrued”. Finally, section 21 makes provision for a time limit for actions in respect of trust property. It is common ground that the relevant time limit is contained in subsection (3) which, in so far as material, provides that “an action by a beneficiary … in respect of any breach of trust, …, shall not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which the right of action accrued” (emphasis added to each).
47. I consider that the reason for the general rule which directs that the day of accrual of the cause of action should be excluded from the reckoning of time is that the law rejects a fraction of a day. The justification for that rule is straightforward; it is intended to prevent part of a day being counted as a whole day for the purposes of limitation, thereby prejudicing the claimant and interfering with the time periods stipulated in the Limitation Act 1980. However, in this case it was, in my opinion correctly, submitted that in a midnight deadline case even if the cause of action accrued at the very start of the day following midnight, that day was a complete undivided day. I consider that it would impermissibly transcend practical reality if the stroke of midnight or some infinitesimal division of a second after midnight, led to the conclusion that the concept of an undivided day was no longer appropriate. In that sense this would not only be impermissible metaphysics but also, in this context, such a minimum period of time does not cross the threshold as capable of being recognised by the law. Whether the issue is framed in terms of metaphysics, which the common law eschews, or of the principle that the law does not concern itself with trifling matters, the conclusion is the same: realistically, there is no fraction of a day. That being so, the justification in relation to fractions of a day does not apply in a midnight deadline case. During oral submissions Mr Cousins QC, in answer to an enquiry from Lady Arden seeking to identify the rational justification for excluding a whole indivisible day from the calculation of the reckoning of time, sought to do so based on continuing the application of the rule, as he submitted it had been understood since the 18th century, so that in relation to something as important as limitation there should be continuity of interpretation. I reject the premise to that submission. As I have indicated there is no long-standing authority which excluded a whole indivisible day. Furthermore, I consider that the premise is undermined by the decision of Channell J in Gelmini. So, I reject this argument as a sufficient justification for excluding a whole day from the reckoning of time in a midnight deadline case. Rather, I prefer to consider the impact of holding that a full undivided day in a midnight deadline case is to be excluded from the reckoning of time. If that day were excluded from the computation of time then the limitation period would be six years and one complete day. I consider that would unduly distort the six-year limitation period laid down by Parliament and would prejudice the defendant by lengthening the statutory limitation period by a complete day.
48. I also consider that the impact of excluding 3 June 2011 can be seen by applying the criteria suggested in Radcliffe of imagining a limitation period of one day. If in this case 3 June 2011 were excluded from the computation and if the limitation period were a single day, then the impact would be to allow two complete days within which to commence an action (see para 36 above).
49. I consider that Gelmini is an exception to the general rule so that any part of a day (but not a whole day) happening after the cause of action accrues is excluded from the calculation of the limitation period for the purposes of the provisions of the Limitation Act with which this appeal is concerned. The 3 June 2011 was a whole day so that it should be included in the computation of the limitation period.’