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Let us suppose that a business A aggrieves an individual party B, and B has a limitation period of 3 years to bring forth a civil legal action. Within 10 months, they send a letter-before-claim complaint to A in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules' pre-action protocol, requiring A to respond within a time period of 14 days. Suppose then that A sends to B a reply on the 13th day. Under the civil procedure rules, how long does B then have to weigh and respond back to A in order to decide how they will proceed? Is there a similar time limit, or do they literally just have until the limitation period for bringing proper legal claim action in court, while the onus is purely on the alleged offender to engage with the alleging victim in a timely manner?

Note: fairly new here, so please feel free to suggest any more-appropriate tags. Thank you

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Jurisdiction:

There are two separate issues here; the pre-action protocol, and the limitation period.

Pre-action protocol

I'm assuming that for the cause of action there is no specific pre-action protocol. If there is, then you should comply with that protocol. Otherwise, the general Practice Direction - Pre-action Conduct and Protocols (the "Protocol") applies.

The Protocol does not provide for specific procedures or hard deadlines, and says nothing at all about replying to a reply. Instead, it provides at paragraph 3 that:

Before commencing proceedings, the court will expect the parties to have exchanged sufficient information to—

(a) understand each other’s position;

(b) make decisions about how to proceed;

(c) try to settle the issues without proceedings;

(d) consider a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to assist with settlement;

(e) support the efficient management of those proceedings; and

(f) reduce the costs of resolving the dispute.

This is typically complied with by the claimant sending a letter which sets out, clearly and concisely, what is being claimed and the reasons why, and proposing how the claim can be resolved without going to court. The defendant then replies to provide the reasons why they dispute the claim. Provided that these two letters comply with the above rule then no further correspondence is necessary and the claimant can proceed with issuing the claim.

Paragraph 6 elaborates and provides some guidance as to timescales (emphasis mine):

Where there is a relevant pre-action protocol, the parties should comply with that protocol before commencing proceedings. Where there is no relevant pre-action protocol, the parties should exchange correspondence and information to comply with the objectives in paragraph 3, bearing in mind that compliance should be proportionate. The steps will usually include—

(a) the claimant writing to the defendant with concise details of the claim. The letter should include the basis on which the claim is made, a summary of the facts, what the claimant wants from the defendant, and if money, how the amount is calculated;

(b) the defendant responding within a reasonable time - 14 days in a straight forward case and no more than 3 months in a very complex one. The reply should include confirmation as to whether the claim is accepted and, if it is not accepted, the reasons why, together with an explanation as to which facts and parts of the claim are disputed and whether the defendant is making a counterclaim as well as providing details of any counterclaim; and

(c) the parties disclosing key documents relevant to the issues in dispute.

Note that a failure to comply with the Protocol will not affect the outcome of the case. Rather, it will have cost implications (i.e. make it more likely that the winner receives an adverse costs order).

If you have received a reply from the defendant and then take an excessive amount of time to issue a claim, you should probably send a fresh demand. The courts have a lot of discretion for costs orders and have been known to frown on proceedings being initiated after a long delay. In particular if the delay is long then the defendant may have forgotten about it or assumed that you had dropped the case. Evidence may be lost, memories fade, etc.

Limitation period

The steps you take under the Protocol have no affect whatsoever on the limitation period. Paragraph 17 re-iterates this and provides guidance on what to do if compliance with the Protocol would cause you to miss the deadline:

This Practice Direction and the pre-action protocols do not alter the statutory time limits for starting court proceedings. If a claim is issued after the relevant limitation period has expired, the defendant will be entitled to use that as a defence to the claim. If proceedings are started to comply with the statutory time limit before the parties have followed the procedures in this Practice Direction or the relevant pre-action protocol, the parties should apply to the court for a stay of the proceedings while they so comply.

You mentioned a limitation period of 3 years. You should be aware that this is rather unusual and the usual limitation period for most types of claims is 6 years (e.g. see sections 2, 5, and 9 of the Limitation Act 1980 in relation to causes of action founded on tort, contract, and statute respectively). If you open the full Act and search for the term "three years" you will find the causes of action which have a 3 year limitation period (e.g. personal injury, negligence).

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  • This is helpful! Questions: 1. I don't believe there is a particular protocol prescribed for the particular cause of action in question, but is there anywhere a comprehensive enumeration of specific pre-action protocols?
    – Dmitri
    Oct 22 at 13:18
  • 2. On the courts "frowning upon" proceedings initiated following a long delay, what constitutes long in this context? And as this remark appears under your protocol section heading, I assume that you mean actions brought after a long delay following the engagement of the pre-action protocol, and not actions brought maybe just at the last minute before the limitations expires, i.e. a long delay following the transgression which has prompted the claim. In any event, what would constitute "long"?
    – Dmitri
    Oct 22 at 13:18
  • 3. on "send[ing] a fresh demand," what more could I learn to understand this principle? What would constitute a fresh demand as distinct from merely following up the previous correspondence, especially seeing as it is all pertaining to the same incidents?
    – Dmitri
    Oct 22 at 13:18
  • Lastly, my apologies, I was not very clear: the limitations period for the action is in fact 6 years, I had just forgotten exactly what it was, and specified an arbitrary example as I intend to issue my reply to the reply well within 1 year of the original incident, so it is rather moot. What has happened is that they hired a law firm to put together a 2 page response letter that just did everything it possibly could have to distract from, rather than address, the numerous points of law raised in my own. I have not had the chance to write a thorough refutation to them, but when I do...
    – Dmitri
    Oct 22 at 13:19
  • ...I intend to offer the comprehensive rebuttal demonstrating that the law is unquestionably on my side, while at the same time offering them one final opportunity to settle the matter before I go to court. However, it will be perhaps 6 months following my receipt of their lawyer-letter reply, which they must have paid £300-600 for. Does this all seem like a sensible course of action? Thank you
    – Dmitri
    Oct 22 at 13:19

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