Taking the time limit out of complaining

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission is to defend its adherence to complaint time limits in the High Court, says Roger Pearson.

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission's rigid adherence to time limits within which complaints must be made is to come under High Court scrutiny.

Countess Ilona Esterhazy, a mental health consultant, is taking the commission to court to challenge its insistence that complaints should be launched within three months.

Esterhazy complained to the commission after a BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts documentary last year which she claims wrongly branded her as dishonest and hypocritical.

It was alleged in the programme that she did not pay her bills, incorrectly described herself as a middle-European countess, misconducted herself as a trustee of a mental health charity and was generally dishonest in her business and in her charitable affairs.

However, the commission refused to hear her complaints. It ruled, without considering the merits of her complaints, that she had left her approach to it too late because by the time her complaint reached the commission it was outside the normal three-month time limit for such complaints to be made.

But Esterhazy has now won the right to challenge the commission's stance. Her lawyers argue that it "wrongly fettered" its discretionary power to hear genuine complaints, even if they were brought after the normal time limits had elapsed.

Leave for the appeal was granted by Mr Justice Popplewell. However, he warned that although Esterhazy's application for judicial review of the commission's decision can go ahead she should not take this to mean that she would win when the case finally reaches a full hearing.