Central Electricity Generating Board v Halifax Corporation: HL 1963

Under the 1947 Act, the assets of electricity undertakings were transferred to to electricity boards. Property held by local authorities as authorised undertakers should, on vesting day, vest in the relevant board. A question arose as to whether certain monies had been held by the local authority and the question was referred to the minister, who decided that they had and so the appellant sought to recover the money.
Held: The cause of action accrued at the vesting date, more than six years before the action commenced, even though the appellants could not have proved the monies were held by the respondents as authorised undertakers until the minister had so decided. The minister’s decision and vesting notice did not create a new right of property or chose in action, but merely enabled a pre-existing right of action to be enforced. Albeit that the minister had to decide any dispute of fact relevant to the claim, the plaintiff could have issued proceedings for the recovery of the money at any time after 1 April 1948.
Lord Reid said: ‘No new right or liability came into existence at [the date of the minister’s decision]. It is quite clear, and it is now admitted by the appellants, that the effect of the minister’s decision was merely to prove that this sum had belonged to the appellants ever since the vesting date. It created no new right of property or chose in action: it merely enabled a pre-existing right to be enforced.
A number of cases were cited in argument. None was directly in point and I have found nothing in any of these cases which conflicts with the view that a cause of action can exist although one of the facts essential to the cause of action can only be proved otherwise than by evidence led in court and has not yet been proved when action is brought. If the appellants had begun an action within six years of the vesting date, and had applied to the minister for his decision when the respondents traversed their allegation that the sum sued for had been held or used by the respondents in their capacity of electricity undertakers, proceedings in the action could, if necessary, have been stayed to await the minister’s decision. But they did not do that and, in my judgment, this action is barred by section 2(1)(d) of the Limitation Act.’


Lord Reid


[1963] AC 785


Electricity Act 1947, Limitation Act 1939 2(1)(d)


England and Wales


Dissenting dicta approvedLeivers v Barber Walker and Co Ltd CA 1943
Goddard LJ (dissenting) said that section 2(1)(d) of the 1939 Act changed the former position altogether, leaving the provision for limitation as regards specialties to apply only to deeds and other documents under seal (or to claims other than for . .

Cited by:

CitedLegal Services Commission v Rasool CA 5-Mar-2008
The defendant had in 1993 obtained legal aid. Work was done but the certificate was then revoked. The Commission sought repayment of the sums paid on account to his solicitors. He replied that the claim was out of time. The Commission argued that . .
CitedLegal Services Commission v Henthorn QBD 4-Feb-2011
The claimant sought to recover overpayments said to have been made to the defendant barrister in the early 1990s. Interim payments on account had been made, but these were not followed by final accounts. The defendant, now retired, said that the . .
CitedLegal Services Commission v Henthorn CA 30-Nov-2011
The Commission sought to recover what it said were payments made on account to the respondent barrister, but only after many years had passed. The Commission argued that time only began to run once it requested repayment.
Held: The appeal . .
CitedSwansea City Council v Glass CA 1992
The defendant had failed himself to repair his property, and the Local Authority carried out the work itself under the 1957 Act. It sought to recover the associated costs from the defendant, but he said that their claim was time barred, being more . .
CitedDoyle v PRA Group (UK) Ltd CA 23-Jan-2019
Whether the cause of action for the outstanding sums accrued when Mr Doyle first defaulted in his payments or only when Mr Doyle failed to comply with the default notice stipulated by CCA s.87(1) and required by clause 8f of the Agreement. Mr Doyle . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Limitation, Utilities

Updated: 08 August 2022; Ref: scu.268785