Claims period to be reviewed

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MASERU — The days of people refusing to settle genuine claims on the basis that those who seek damages have not lodged their claims on time are set to end.

The Lesotho Law Reform Commission this week said it wants to review the period in which a person can lay a claim before it is considered to have lapsed.

The Prescription Act of 1861 and other laws have provisions that stipulate the period in which a person can institute a claim for damages or debt.

Prescription is defined as a period of time after which a suit or cause of action cannot be lodged.

Once the specified time for laying a claim has lapsed a person loses the right to redress.

For instance, the Money Lenders Order of 1989 provides 12 months as a prescription period.

This means that a claimant should lodge his claim within 12 months or lose the right to do so.

The Motor Vehicle Act also provides for a prescription period of two years.

Under the law if a person is hit by a car they have only two years in which they can lodge a claim against the insurance company under which the vehicle that caused the accident is covered.

Under the Police Service Act of 1998 if a person is tortured or mistreated by the police they only have six months in which to lodge a claim against the police force.

Over the years many individuals, companies and institutions have used the prescription period to duck genuine claims.

The Law Reform Commission’s executive secretary Puleng Mojela said the aim is to review prescription laws to bring them in accord with the current situation.

“We are here to review all statutes that have provision on prescription.

“We are here to amend all statutes that have a provision of prescription,” Mojela said.

She said laws that have a provision of prescription are unfair because claimants lose cases because they might have not been aware that there is a stipulated time within which one should lodge a claim.

She said most of the laws that have a provision of prescription stipulate that one should lodge a claim within a stipulated period starting from the time when the action arose.

Mojela said this is a deficiency because a claim might arise when the claimant is not aware that he or she has a legitimate claim to lodge.

The laws which were cited as examples whose provisions of prescription should be reviewed include the Police Act of 1998, Motor Vehicle Insurance Act of 1989 and Money Lenders Order of 1989.

Mojela said a period within which a claimant should lodge a claim should be reasonable and protect people’s human rights.

She also said there is confusion regarding a period within which a claim should be lodged because procedure differs when it comes to lodging claims against the government.

“Prescription should ensure protection of rights.

“Government action requires notice of action and a clear example is the Police Act.

“Should other laws require notice of action while others do not need it? Is it not prescription within another prescription?” she asked.

The Law Reform Commissioner ‘Makhiba Tjela also said prescription, sometimes, is prejudicial to claimants.

“Although a person has a good claim he cannot prosecute or bring his claim because of the lapse of time.

“It may also not be fair when the time lapses when the plaintiff had not known that he had a legitimate claim against the defendant.

“If the lapse of time is short the result may be harsh to plaintiffs,” Tjela said.

Reference was made to the former President of the Court of Appeal Justice Jan Steyn who criticised the prescription period contained in the Police Act in a case in which the police refused to pay a claim that was brought against the police by a woman whose husband was killed by the police.

The police had said the claim was lodged beyond the period set out in the police law.

Participants at the workshop recommended that there should be a core prescription law to guide legal practitioners.

But they said the lapse of time should be set according to the nature of a particular claim.

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