In insolvency law the calculation of precise periods of time is important. Insolvency practitioners need to know exactly when limitation periods end in order to preserve potential claims. The “relation back period” is one of the more important time periods relevant to calculating limitations, and yet there is surprisingly little authority on exactly when the relation back period starts.
The Relation Back period
Most practitioners are familiar with what is the last day of a relation back period. It is the “relation-back day” in corporate law, and in bankruptcy it is the date of the presentation of the petition against the bankrupt.
But what is the first day of the relation-back period? If the relation back day is 12 December, is a 6 month relation-back period taken to begin on the 12 June? Or 13 June? The answer has obvious practical significance because it will not be uncommon for a significant payment to fall on the 12th day.
The issue is whether one includes the relation back day or not in the 6 month period. Surprisingly, there is no appellate decision which makes the answer clear, however single judge authorities indicate one does count the relation-back day. So in the example, 12 June would not be included.
In Scott v The Commissioner of Taxation  VSC 50 (link), Justice Dodds-Streeton reached the same conclusion (at paragraphs 32 and 33). However the decision does include reasoning on that point.
In Re Weston Application; Employers Mutual Indemnity (Workers Compensation) Ltd v Omni Corporation Pty Ltd NSWSC 264 (link), calculation of time going forward from the relation-back day was discussed in an application to strike out a voidable transaction claim on the basis it was out of time. The time for making the application expires 3 years after the relation back day, or 12 months after the liquidator is appointed, whichever is the later: s588FF(3)(a).
In Re Weston the liquidator commenced the application for relief under s588FF(1) exactly 3 years to the date after the relation back day: the respective dates were 16 January 2009 and 16 January 2006.
Justice Barrett considered the issue relying on two statutory provisions (at paragraphs 6 to 16):
- Section 105 of the Corporations Act. It provides:
Calculation of time
Without limiting subsection 36(1) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 , in calculating how many days a particular day, act or event is before or after another day, act or event, the first-mentioned day, or the day of the first-mentioned act or event, is to be counted but not the other day, or the day of the other act or event.
- Section 36(1) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (link). It contains a useful table for calculating when a day should and should not be included in a time calculation. The section states that:
A period of time referred to in an Act that is of a kind mentioned in [the table] is to be calculated according to the rule mentioned in [the table].
Based on those provisions, His Honour concluded:
- when a time period is expressed to end at, on or within a specified day, the period of time includes that day (item 4 of the table);
- when a time period is expressed to begin from a specified day, the period of time does not include that day (item 5 of the table).
The Start Date and the End Date
In Re Weston the result was that the liquidator had made his application in time, since the 16th of January 2006 was not included in calculating the 3 year limitation period after the relation-back day (applying item 5 from the table).
In calculating the start of the relation-back period, using the example above, 12 June would not be included, because 12 December would be included in the 6 month relation-back period (applying item 4 from the table).
Significance for Practitioners
The application of these principles is important:
- for practitioners in diarising limitation periods;
- identifying transactions at the extremes of the relation back periods under the voidable transaction provisions;
- for third parties considering limitation defences;
for calculating the application of time periods generally where limits are strict. For an example, applied to determining whether an application was within time to set aside a statutory demand, see Autumn Solar Installations Pty Ltd v Solar Magic Australia Pty Ltd  NSWSC 463.