Arnold v Central Electricity Generating Board: HL 22 Oct 1987

The plaintiff was widow and administratrix of the estate of her deceased husband. He had worked from April 1938 to April 1943 for a predecessor to the CEGB. He had been exposed to asbestos dust as a result of his employer’s negligence and breach of duty. In 1981 he began to suffer mesothelioma, a long-delayed result of his exposure, and he died in May 1982. Proceedings were issued in April 1984. It was agreed that any cause of action the deceased may have had was barred by section 21 of the 1939 Act one year after his employment had ceased, namely in April 1944. The issue was whether the 1963 Act or the 1975 Act revived the deceased’s cause of action.
Held: Any action time-barred before 4 June 1954 remained time-barred.
Lord Bridge thought it ‘beyond question that the Act of 1963 operated retrospectively, when the appropriate conditions were satisfied, to deprive a defendant of an accrued time bar in respect of a claim for damages for personal injuries in which the cause of action had accrued since 4 June 1954 and which had, therefore, been subject to the three year period of limitation introduced by the Act of 1954. This is the combined effect of the relevant provisions of sections 1, 6 and 15.’
Lord Bridge accepted that: ‘Consistently with the presumption that a statute affecting substantive rights is not to be construed as having retrospective operation unless it clearly appears to have been so intended, it seems to me entirely proper, in a case where some retrospective operation was clearly intended, equally to presume that the retrospective operation of the statute extends no further than is necessary to give effect either to its clear language or to its manifest purpose. Construing sections 2A to 2D of the Act of 1939 in the light of section 3 of the Act of 1975, I think that full effect is given both to the language and to the purposes of the legislation if it is held retrospectively applicable to all personal injury actions previously governed by the three year limitation period under the Act of 1954, whether as then enacted or as amended by the Act of 1963. Conversely, I can find nothing in the language or discernible purposes of the statute which leads clearly, let alone avoidably, to the conclusion that defendants previously entitled to rely on the accrued six year and one year time bars under the original Act of 1939 which the Act of 1963 left intact were intended to be deprived of those accrued rights by the Act of 1975.’


Lord Bridge of Harwich, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton, Lord Brightman, Lord Ackner and Lord Oliver of Aylmerton


[1988] AC 228, Gazette 25-Nov-1987, [1987] 3 All ER 694, [1987] 3 WLR 1009


Limitation Act 1939 2A(1)


England and Wales


CitedYew Bon Tew v Kenderaan Bas Mara PC 7-Oct-1982
(Malaysia) In 1972 the appellants were injured by the respondent’s bus. At that time the local limitation period was 12 months. In 1974 the limitation period became three years. The appellants issued a writ in 1975. To succeed they would have to sue . .
CriticisedKnipe v British Railways Board CA 1972
The plaintiff was injured in 1948, but it later became more serious, and in 1970, having obtained leave under the 1963 Act, he issued proceedings. The defendants argued that his claim was statute-barred under section 2(1). The defendant appealed. . .

Cited by:

CitedNicholls v London Borough of Greenwich CA 3-Apr-2003
The claimant had been employed by the respondent, and earned a pension. She challenged legislation which appeared to operate retrospectively to reduce that pension. The respondent argued that the amount agreed to be paid exceeded the maximum . .
CitedMcDonnell v Congregation of Christian Brothers Trustees (Formerly Irish Christian Brothers) and others HL 4-Dec-2003
In 2000, the claimant sought damages for sexual abuse from before 1951. The issue was as to whether the limitation law which applied was that as at the date of the incidents, or that which applied as at the date when he would be deemed uner the . .
CitedBolton Metropolitan Borough Council v Municipal Mutual Insurance Ltd CA 6-Feb-2006
The deceased had come into contact with asbestos when working on building sites for more than one contractor. The claimant here sought contribution from the defendants for the damages it had paid to his estate. The issue was as to liability on . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Constitutional, Limitation

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.180539