The Court of Appeal has found that a defendant creditor could not rely on a limitation defence to a borrower’s claim that its non-disclosure of a very high rate of commission rendered the relationship “unfair” within the meaning of s.140A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, as the borrower could establish deliberate concealment to postpone limitation under s.32 of the Limitation Act 1980: Canada Square Operations Ltd v Potter  EWCA Civ 339.
Section 32(1)(b) of the Act provides that, where any fact relevant to a claimant’s right of action has been deliberately concealed by the defendant, limitation does not begin to run until the claimant has discovered the concealment (or could with reasonable diligence have discovered it). Section 32(2) provides that, for these purposes, deliberate commission of a breach of duty in circumstances where it is unlikely to be discovered for some time amounts to deliberate concealment of the facts involved in that breach of duty.
The Court of Appeal’s decision is of interest in confirming that s.32 does not require “active concealment”. It may apply to cases of non-disclosure and, in such cases, there is no need for the court to consider whether there was a pre-existing contractual, tortious or fiduciary duty to disclose. Precisely when the court will find there was a sufficient duty is not altogether clear, however. The decision suggests that the obligation may arise from “a combination of utility and morality”, which is not the most straightforward of benchmarks. The upshot is that claimants may be able to postpone the limitation period due to (deliberate) non-disclosure, even where the non-disclosure is not actionable in itself.
The decision also clarifies what is meant by “deliberate”, for both deliberate concealment under s.32(1)(b) and deliberate commission of a breach of duty under s.32(2). It shows there is no need for the claimant to establish actual knowledge or wilful blindness on the part of the defendant. Recklessness is sufficient, in the sense that: (a) the defendant realised there was a risk (that they ought to disclose the information, or that their conduct amounted to a breach of duty); and (b) it was objectively unreasonable to take that risk. Again, this may make it easier for claimants to postpone time running, as there is no need to show a defendant was aware of its wrongdoing so long as it took an unreasonable risk that what it was doing was wrong.
For more information, please see this post on our Litigation blog.