LAW OF LIMITATION: AN OVERVIEW

By Sabrina Bath

Introduction

The maxims “Interest Reipublicae Ut Sit Finis Litium”[1] which states that there should be a limit to litigation in the state’s interest at large, and “vigilantibus non dormientibus Jura subveniunt”[2], which states that the law would only help those who are conscientious with their rights and those who do not sleep on it. The statute of limitations establishes the time limit within which an individual may file a lawsuit or begin a legal proceeding. The limitation will prevent a lawsuit if it is brought after the time limit has passed. It indicates that a lawsuit filed after the deadline for starting a legal procedure has passed will be limited.


Background

The law of limitation evolved over time and culminated in the Limitation Act of 1963[3]. There was no such law that could be applied to all of India before to 1859. It was not until 1859 that the Law of Limitation was created that could be applied to all the Indian courts. In the years 1871, 1877, and 1908, the Limitation Act was repealed. The Third Law Commission revoked the Act of 1908, and the Limitation Act of 1963[4] took effect. The earlier Act only applied to international contracts, whereas the 1963 Act applied to contracts entered into foreign nation or in the dominion of Jammu and Kashmir.


Definition

According to Section 2 (j) of the Limitation Act, 1963[5], period of limitation means the period of limitation prescribed for any suit, appeal or application by the Schedule and ‘prescribed period’ means the period of limitation computed in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”[6]


Objective

The law of limitation establishes a temporal restriction for enforcing a right in a court of law. The Act’s schedule specifies the time limits for various types of lawsuits. The fundamental goal of this Act is to prevent long-running litigation and to ensure that cases are resolved quickly, allowing for better litigation. At present, this Act is applicable to all of India owing to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019[7].

Is the Act exhaustive?

With regards to all issues specifically addressed within the Act, the Limitation Act is exhaustive. By comparison, it cannot be extended. Generally, the Act is applicable to civil cases unless otherwise explicitly and particularly specified for.


The salient features of the Act are:

There are 32 sections and 137 articles in the Limitation Act. The articles are organized into ten parts dealing with areas such as accounts, contracts, declarations, torts, movable and immovable property decrees and instruments trusts and trust property, suits for which no time limit has been set and miscellaneous matters.

  1. Effect- No extinguishing of the party’s substantive rights, bar only on remedy and it does not destroy the title.

  2. Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the proceeding is within the statute of limitations.

  3. Bar of limitation (Section 3) - Limitation has not been set up as a defense, any suit, appeal, or application filed after the statutory term will be dismissed.[8] It applies to appeals, suits and applications. It specifies just the time limit within which legal procedures must be begun. It imposes no restrictions on the amount for putting up a defense against such acts. As a result, the original right to sue is unaffected. In Punjab National Bank and Ors v. Surendra Prasad Sinha[9], it was held that the rules of limitation do not appear to extinguish the parties’ rights. It only prohibits the remedy, but not the right.

  4. Period of expiry (Section 4)[10]- When the time limit set for an application or a suit expires on the date when the court closes the same must be instituted or filed on the day it reopens.

  5. Condonation of delay (Section 5)[11]- Extension of the stipulated duration is allowed whenever the appellant and has been deceived by the judgement or any order of the court for determining the amount required. The same suffices as a reason for the delay.

  6. Circumstances where the prescribed duration may be extended- Appeal or application is allowed after the statutory time frame only if the applicant convinces the Court that they had good reason for not filing the same within the prescribed time.[12] Examples- minority, delays in acquiring court laches, copies of papers, etc.

  7. Sufficient cause- It basically means that the Court should have reasonable grounds to conclude that an individual was barred from proceeding with the application. In Balwant Singh (Dead) v. Jagdish Singh & Ors.[13], it was held that an individual must show adequate cause due to which he was barred from continuing the case.

  8. Legal Disabilities (Section 6) - An individual authorized for making an application or instituting a suit for the execution of a decree is insane or a minor. In case of insanity, the same can be done within the time period when the disability has stopped.[14]

  9. Retrospective provisions- Being procedural, the law can be applied retrospectively as held in the case of BK Education Services Private Limited v. Parag Gupta and Associates[15].

  10. Sections 12[16] to 15[17] of the Limitation Act deal with the exclusion of time.

  11. The term “postponement of limitation” refers to the extension of the statute of limitations. The Act’s sections 16[18] to 23[19] deal with the delay of limitation.

  12. The statute of limitation merely prohibits the remedy, not the right altogether, according to the general rule. This rule is excepted under Section 27[20]. It discusses the concept of adverse possession. It encompasses not just physical possession but also de jure possession. It only pertains to and is limited to claims for possession of the property.

  13. An order that goes outside the court’s authority is void or voidable, and the same can be challenged in any court in which the order’s legitimacy is questioned. In Devi Swarup v. Smt Veena Nirwani[21], it was held that it is an established principle that any void order must be contested in order to be deemed void. Even if an order is deemed void, it retains to have effect until it is proclaimed non-est.

  14. Where a property belonging to the Government over which access and use of light or any way or watercourse or the use of any water, have been peaceably and openly enjoyed as an easement and as of a right by any person claiming title thereto, without any interruption for thirty years, the right to such access and use of light or air, or way or waterway, or use of their easement shall be absolute and indefeasible, in case of a private property it is twenty years.[22]


Conclusion

The statute of limitations specifies how long an individual has to exercise his right. It keeps an eye on the cases to ensure they do not go on for too long. It also recognizes that there are times when persons instituting a suit for a legitimate reason are unable to do so within the time limits set forth in the statute, and so the same standards cannot be used to each circumstance.


[1] The Limitation Act, 1963, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [2] Ibid., 1. [3] Ibid., 1. [4] Ibid., 1. [5] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 2(j), No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [6] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 2(j), No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [7] Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, No. 34, Acts of Parliament 2019 (India). [8] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 3, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [9] Punjab National Bank and Ors v. Surendra Prasad Sinha, (1992) SCR (2) 528. [10] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 4, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [11] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 5, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [12] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 5, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [13] Balwant Singh (Dead) v. Jagdish Singh & Ors., (2010) 8 SCC 685. [14] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 6, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [15]BK Education Services Private Limited v. Parag Gupta and Associates, (2019) 11 SCC 633. [16] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 12, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [17] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 15, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [18] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 17, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [19] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 18, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [20] The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 27, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India). [21] Devi Swarup v. Smt Veena Nirwani, (1998) 119 PLR 91. [22]The Limitation Act, 1963, s. 25, No. 36, Acts of Parliament 1963 (India).


Author- Sabrina Bath

LL.M

Symbiosis Law School, Pune

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