6 August 2018
Kimathi & Others v The Foreign and Commonwealth Office  EWHC 2066 (QB) read judgment
Stewart J has dismissed the first test case in this group litigation, in which over 40,000 Kenyans bring claims for damages against the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, alleging abuse during the Kenyan Emergency of the 1950s and early 1960s.
The mammoth hearing lasted 223 days, and the judgment accordingly runs to nearly 500 paragraphs. The decision turns on whether the judge should allow the claim to be heard over 50 years after the primary deadline expired.
In personal injury claims, section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 provides that in certain circumstances, a claim which would otherwise be out of time (“statute-barred”) can nevertheless be heard. The court has a discretion to disapply the usual three-year time limit where it is equitable. This involves balancing the prejudice to the defendant of facing a late claim against the prejudice the claimant will suffer if the claim is statute-barred.
In this test case, Stewart J determined that it would not be equitable to extend time in the claimant’s favour. The severe effects of the passage of time on the defendant’s ability to defend the claim was a crucial factor, particularly due to the depleted cogency of the evidence available, as were the lack of good reasons for the delay, and the very substantial length of the delay itself. This carefully reasoned judgment will provide detailed guidance for the trial of ‘stale’ claims.
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