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"Continuing Cause of Action" Revisited

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The concept of the accrual of a cause of action runs through our law on the limitation of actions. It is “from the date on which the cause of action accrued” that the statutory limitation period for bringing a claim is normally counted. What this expression means, however, has always caused trouble, as evidenced by the mass of case law dedicated to deciphering it. Jalla v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd [2023] UKSC 16; [2023] 2 W.L.R. 1085 now adds to this reservoir of judicial discourse. The defendants’ activity caused damage to the claimants’ land, although that activity had ceased before the onset of the damaging effects. Did the cause of action in the tort of private nuisance accrue afresh every day those effects continued? The Supreme Court held it did not, upholding the decisions at first instance ([2020] EWHC 459 (TCC); [2020] B.L.R. 267 at [62]–[68]) and of the Court of Appeal ([2021] EWCA Civ 63; [2021] B.L.R. 276). While reaching the right decision, the sole judgment delivered by Lord Burrows leaves something to be desired in unravelling the conceptual muddle surrounding the notion of a “continuing cause of action”.



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The Law Quarterly Review

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Sweet and Maxwell

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