Time limits for bringing a case

| 3 min read

What is a statute of limitation?

The statute of limitations is a time limit for filing criminal charges against someone. After the time limit has passed, a person cannot be prosecuted, tried or punished, regardless of the evidence against him or her.

The purpose of having a statute of limitation is to prevent charges from being raised that date so far back into the past that defence against the charges is difficult and expensive. Evidence might be difficult to obtain, testimony may be clouded, and the defendant may not receive a fair trial.

There are usually exceptions for certain types of case. Capital crimes usually have no time limit in which they can be prosecuted, and others such as tax evasion may have an extended period.

Time limits for claims in the UK

In the UK, statute of limitations does not exist, unlike in countries such as the United States of America.

However, there are time limits in which civil cases must be brought. Limitation periods start from the date of the cause of action, the first date at which a claim might be able to be made and usually the date at which there is some evidence of wrongdoing.
In most cases, the date of the cause of action is the date that the contract was broken. In cases where there has been negligence, it is the date at which the negligence became apparent.

Time periods for certain types of claims

Breach of contract, including non-payment of debt

Claims for breach of contract must generally be made within 6 years. If the matter relates to the failure to repay a debt and the debt is secured with a mortgage, the period may be longer – up to 12 years.

As with all cases of breach of contract, it is important not only to document breach (such as keeping messages between you, photographs or copies of work done but not completed or other evidence) but also the timing as to how the breach unfolded. Your testimony as to what happened when may be important.

Civil litigation

Personal injury claims for compensation if a defective product or service causes damage to property, injury to a person or death typically must be made within three years of the event.

Similarly, medical negligence, where a patient dies because of poor medical treatment must also be made within three years of the person’s death. Because it is the injured party who must claim (in this case, the dependents of the deceased), with so much else often going on (such as arranging a funeral) and difficulty in obtaining evidence and expert testimony, medical negligence cases often are brought late.

Claims relating to the quality of work in the construction of buildings may be made within 15 years of the fault becoming apparent. Time limits for breach of contract regarding construction remain at 6 years. If your builder fails to complete the job, you would have 6 years in which to claim. If the builder finishes the job and later it becomes apparent that the workmanship was poor, you might have longer in which to claim. The rationale for a greater period is that structural problems might take longer to appear.


A claim for defamation must be made within one year.  If there is good reason why the period should be extended, usually because the injured party did not hear about the defamation until much later, a judge may decide that the time limit can be extended.

However, if the time period is extended, a defendent might be able to claim that the injury couldn't be so great if the effect was not immediately noticed.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
Contact us about this article

We would love to hear what you think about this article and how we could improve it. Please do let us know. However, we shan't be able to reply to your specific questions. If you have a question about a document, please contact us.

Leave feedback about this page