An optimist is always late, or so runs the plea of anyone whose time-keeping is a constant source of frustration to their friends and colleagues.
In theory at least, the optimist faced with a limited window of time before they have to be somewhere or do something has such high hopes for what they can achieve in the meantime, that they under-estimate the time required for getting where they need to be or for doing what they have to do. That’s not to mention the circumstances beyond the latecomer’s control. A more widespread understanding of the psychology behind lateness and a kinder view towards serial latecomers is one thing; when it comes to meeting the deadline for issuing a claim at court, litigants should be under no illusion as to how strict the court will be in enforcing that deadline – no matter how optimistic or well-intentioned the claimant appears to be.
In a recent reported case, the deadline for a claimant (Mr Croke) to issue an application in the High Court in London challenging a planning decision of his local authority, was 23 March 2016, being six weeks after the decision in question had been made. Mr Croke hoped to attend at court in person on 23 March 2016, in the knowledge that the court office closed at 4.30pm, but he missed his train. He therefore emailed the claim documents to a friend based in London who was able to get to court by 4.25pm only to be turned away by security at the front of the building who told him that the court counters were closed. The claim was later issued but the defendant applied to strike it out on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction to hear it.
In argument, Mr Croke drew analogy with certain established authorities for the principle that if a limitation period expires on a day on which the court office is closed, proceedings may be brought on the next day when the court office is open, on the basis that otherwise a claimant would be deprived by the court’s closure of the full time in which to bring a claim. He contended that the failure of the security guards to admit someone to issue a claim within the limitation period meant that the court was not accessible during its normal working hours and that the deadline should be extended to a time when it was accessible.
The High Court rejected Mr Croke’s arguments and the claim was dismissed. In the interests of legal certainty and consistency, it was held that litigants whose claims are subject to strict time limits must anticipate security procedures and the need to obey the directions of security staff, and make arrangements to ensure that they attend the court office in good time so that they are not thwarted by unexpected problems.
In answer to the question on every optimist’s lips, yes, an appeal cannot be ruled out! Yet the more salutary lesson for every litigant is that it might pay to adopt some of the more cautious traits of the pessimists around them.
An optimist is always late, but a pessimist is never disappointed!
This post was edited by James Seed. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
 Croke v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Another  EWHC 2484 (Admin)