Yew 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 under the 1974 Act.
Held: The claim was time barred. The respondent’s right to rely upon entitlement to plead the twelve-month time bar constituted an accrued right, and the Act was not to be construed retrospectively depriving it of its defence unless such a construction was unavoidable, which it was not.
Apart from the provisions of the interpretation statutes, there is at common law a prima facie rule of construction that a statute should not be interpreted retrospectively so as to impair an existing right or obligation unless that result is unavoidable on the language used. A statute is retrospective if it takes away or impairs a vested right acquired under existing laws, or creates a new obligation, or imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability, in regard to events already past. Whether a statute is to be construed in a retrospective sense, and if so to what extent, depends on the intention of the legislature as expressed in the wording of the statute, having regard to the normal canons of construction and to the relevant provisions of any interpretation statute.
Lord Brightman said: ‘Apart from the provisions of the interpretation statutes, there is at common law a prima facie rule of construction that a statute should not be interpreted retrospectively so as to impair an existing right or obligation unless that result is unavoidable on the language used. A statute is retrospective if it takes away or impairs a vested right acquired under existing laws, or creates a new obligation, or imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability, in regard to events already past.’ As to whether a right to rely upon a statutory limitation provision of that type was a vested right he answered ‘yes’, citing Maxwell v Murphy. The respondent had acquired an ‘accrued right’ on the failure by the appellants to commence an action within the specified period. The proper approach to the construction of the 1948 Ordinance was to see whether the statute, if applied retrospectively, would impair existing rights and obligations. An accrued right to plead a time bar, which is acquired after the lapse of the statutory period, is in every sense a right, even though it arises under an Act which is procedural. It is a right which is not to be taken away by conferring on the statute a retrospective operation, unless such a construction is unavoidable.’
He concluded: ‘In the opinion of their Lordships an accrued entitlement on the part of a person to plead the lapse of a limitation period as an answer to the future institution of proceedings is just as much a ‘right’ as any other statutory or contractual provision against a future suit.’

Judges:

Lord Brightman, Lord Fraser of Tulleybelton, Lord Scarman, Kord Kwry, Lord Bridge of Harwich

Citations:

[1983] 1 AC 553, [1982] 3 All ER 833, [1982] 3 WLR 1026

Citing:

CitedMaxwell v Murphy 1957
Sir Owen Dixon CJ said: ‘The general rule of the common law is that a statute changing the law ought not, unless the intention appears with reasonable certainty, to be understood as applying to facts or events that have already occurred in such a . .

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 . .
CitedRegina v Register of Trade Marks ex parte Interturbine Germany Gmbh Admn 22-Feb-1999
An action was begun opposing a trade mark. It was conducted under the old rules, which did not allow for an order for discovery. After the new rules came into effect, discovery was sought, but the registrar said the old rules would continue to apply . .
CitedWilson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry; Wilson v First County Trust Ltd (No 2) HL 10-Jul-2003
The respondent appealed against a finding that the provision which made a loan agreement completely invalid for lack of compliance with the 1974 Act was itself invalid under the Human Rights Act since it deprived the respondent lender of its . .
CitedArnold 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 . .
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 . .
CitedOxfordshire County Council v Oxford City Council, Catherine Mary Robinson ChD 22-Jan-2004
Land had been registered in part as a common. The council appealed.
Held: The rights pre-existing the Act had not been lost. The presumption against retrospectively disapplying vested rights applied, and the application had properly been made. . .
CitedA v Hoare; H v Suffolk County Council, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs intervening; X and Y v London Borough of Wandsworth CA 12-Apr-2006
Each claimant sought damages for a criminal assault for which the defendant was said to be responsible. Each claim was to be out of the six year limitation period. In the first claim, the proposed defendant had since won a substantial sum from the . .
CitedOdelola v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 20-May-2009
The appellant had applied for leave to remain as a postgraduate doctor. Before her application was determined, the rules changed. She said that her application should have been dealt with under the rules applicable at the time of her application. . .
CitedLawrence v Financial Services Commission PC 14-Dec-2009
lawrence_fscPC2009
(Jamaica) The appellant challenged a fixed penalty notice issued in respect of a financial services allegation, saying that it had been made without him having been allowed opportunity to be heard by an impartial tribunal.
Held: Actions under . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Constitutional, Limitation, Commonwealth

Updated: 28 April 2022; Ref: scu.180540