Biggs v Somerset County Council: CA 29 Jan 1996

The employee at the time of her dismissal was expressly debarred by statute from bringing her complaint of unfair dismissal because she was a part-time employee. It was only many years later the statute was held to impugn EU law and had done so retrospectively.
Held: Despite the fact that the Claimant could not have known at the time she was dismissed that she had a legal right to bring a complaint, she could in theory have brought a complaint arguing that the statute which disbarred her infringed Article 119. Had she done so she would have been correct in her assertions. Her ignorance of the law was not a factor she was permitted to rely on. The Court held that the expression ‘reasonable practicable’ was directed to difficulties faced by an individual Claimant, whereas the Applicant’s mistake as to her rights were was a mistake of law and that it would be contrary to the principle of legal certainty to allow past transactions to be reopened and limitation periods to be circumvented because the existing law at the relevant time had not then been fully explained or fully understood. Accordingly it had been reasonably practicable for the Applicant to present a claim within the prescribed time, and that, taking into account all the circumstances in order to achieve a fair balance, her claim would not have been presented within a reasonable period.
Neil LJ said: ‘The fact that after 1 January 1973 Acts of Parliament and other United Kingdom legislation might have to yield to provisions determined by a different and superior system of law was, I suspect, fully appreciated only by a comparatively small number of people. . But in my view it would be contrary to the principle of legal certainty to allow past transactions to be re-opened and limitation periods to be circumvented because the existing law at the relevant time had not yet been explained or had not been fully understood.’
Neil LJ
Gazette 14-Feb-1996, Independent 01-Feb-1996, Times 29-Jan-1996, [1996] IRLR 203, [1996] ICR 364
England and Wales
Citing:
Appeal fromBiggs v Somerset County Council EAT 23-Feb-1995
Change on admissibility of claims for part timers does not affect time limits . .

Cited by:
CitedTayside Regional Council v Ann McDiarmid Morrison EAT 27-Aug-2001
The applicant had been employed under a contract for four hours per week. At the time of the dismissal, the minimum requirement for job security was 16 hours. The later decision of the Lords that that rule was discriminatory served to start her . .
CitedTuntum Housing Association v Aryeetey EAT 12-Oct-2007
EAT Time Limits – Reasonably practicability
Practice and Procedure – Bias, misconduct and procedural irregularity
Chairman’s mistake as to necessity for further claim following Claimant’s solicitors . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 April 2021; Ref: scu.78398