This article is written by Kanisha Goswami, a law student of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. This article talks about the doctrine of laches in India. The doctrine is based on the Latin maxim “Vigilantibus Et Non Dormientibus Jura Subveniunt” which means that the equity avails to the vigilant, not the person who sleeps over their rights.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
Every person has rights and obligations that he or she enjoys while living in a state. A doctrine is a principle, set of rules, or position usually used and upheld by the courts of law. The doctrine of laches is a legal maxim that supports the person who is aware of their legal right, pointing to denying access to those who are careless in filing a suit in due time. It will not provide any help to the applicants who delayed their filing unreasonably.
The maxim clearly defines that the law would only help the court in the fast delivery of justice and not those who forget to claim their rights at the right time.
Meaning of the doctrine of laches
The doctrine of laches is used by the courts to deal with an inordinate delay that is occurring in filing a petition or complaint. It means if you have any legal claim, you have to approach the court promptly. Laches is a fair doctrine or an equitable defense. The courts will not help the person who sleeps over their rights but help those who are aware of their rights. A person is said to be liable for laches when he comes to the court to affirm their rights after a reasonable delay in that respect. The person who is asserting laches has the burden of proving that it is applicable. In many matters, a delay in filing a case has the effect of blocking the opposing party from putting on a fair defense. Because of that delay, evidence disappears, memories scruple, and witnesses go their ways. The person who wants to claim the doctrine or think of it as help opens the door of hope, but in legal terms, the word laches is an opportunity that is now lost.
In civil court, it offers legal remedies in the way of damages that is monetary relief or offers equitable relief in the forms of specific performance.
Elements of the doctrine of laches
Some elements must be satisfied to consider this doctrine to bar the petitioner from the cause of action:
- Delay must be unreasonable at the time of bringing the matter;
- Negligence in asserting a claim or right;
- Knowledge of a claim by the petitioners in advance
- Y and Z were farmers. Their lands were right next to each other. Y starts extending his property by cultivating crops at the land of Z. Z was well aware of that but never raised this issue with Y. After 18 years, Z filed a case against Y. In this case, it will be said that Z has taken an exuberant amount of time to file a suit even though Z was well aware of the matter and decided not to take any action. Thus, the defendant can take support of the doctrine of laches and prove that Z has slept over his rights.
- Anjali claimed sexual harassement against her office colleague, but she waits seven years to file a case. During that time, she has changed her job, the colleague has moved to another city, other colleagues who were witnesses have scattered, and the office management has even seen major changes. Both the management and the guilty colleague can claim the doctrine of laches here. The court stated that Anjali spent too much time filing a suit. It will be difficult for the judge to entertain this case. He may dismiss her claim because of this doctrine.
Here, the doctrine of laches explains that an unreasonable delay cannot be justified. The court will look up to the circumstances and facts of the matter and find possible reasons behind the delay in filing a lawsuit.
Purpose of the doctrine of laches
In most cases, the delay in filing a lawsuit by the petitioner is an advantage for the opposite party. Because of the delay, witnesses depart, memories vanish, and evidence disappears. It helps the defendant to put this doctrine on defense and it shifts the burden of proof upon the petitioner. The petitioner has to give a reasonable statement for the delay. Article 32 ensures the right to approach the court but it does not restrict the decision of the judge to grant relief.
Case laws related to doctrine of laches
In Haryana State Handloom & v. Jain Shool Society on 29 October (2003), a notification under Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was issued on 26th October 1976 where possession of land was taken and vested to the government. The respondent filed a writ petition challenging that ground. It was submitted by the respondents that they had waited for all these years patiently to observe whether the land was put to use for the purpose for which it was acquired. It was agreed that the order of the high court is fair and equitable. The court said the respondent did not need to wait for 22 years to challenge the order as a writ petition was filed after 17 years of issue of an order. The respondent waited to challenge the ground because of an ulterior motive. Here, the writ petition filed by the party stands dismissed. It was held that the doctrine of laches on the part of the respondent was not reasonable here or the delay made by the party was not justified.
In Dr. Karan Singh v. State Of Jammu & Kashmir & Anr (1986), the appellant is the son of Maharaja Hari Singh, who was the ex-ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. He filed an application for the ‘Toshakhna’(treasure of the state) which he declared as his private property and said abolition of his father’s rulership did not affect the ownership of their private property which is distinct from the state property. The appellant claimed all the articles which were lying in the toshkhana i.e. gold, silver utensils, carpets, heirlooms, etc. The court rejected the application and stated that Maharaja Hari Singh gave the list of his private properties and in his letter dated 1-06-1949, he addressed all his private properties. The list was accepted by the Government of India. The High Court rejected the request of the appellant. The appellant amended his application and added the writ petition. The Court held that appellant has no right to reopen the issue after 30 years and it cannot be reopened without any exceptional or reasonable grounds that are none in the current case.
In Ved Prakash Goel v. S.D. Singh(2020), the petitioner has challenged the order related to the seniority list which was finalized in May 2005. There is no such reason which explains any circumstances which stopped the petitioner from raising this issue within a reasonable time. The issue raised by the petitioner would affect the others also, and if the reopening of an issue affects the settled rights of the other parties, then that claim will not be considered. If the issue was related to the payment or any fixation related to pension, it can be entertained as it will not affect the rights of the third party. The doctrine of laches will not be guarded here as there is no fair reason given by the petitioner for the delay.
In Marico Limited v. Mr. Mukesh Kumar & Ors.(2018), the plaintiff was a company who is engaged in the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of products in a wide range which includes oils, beauty products, hair oil, personal care products, etc. He stated in the lawsuit the defendant adopted their company’s trademark, colour of the bottle with the green coconut tree and the alphabets in white colour, and got registered in 1999. The plaintiff had to desist notice to the defendant also but he ignored the notice. In this case, the Court held that the defense of laches is a defense of equity. The court further added, if anything which misled the general public into buying the goods manufactured by any person or company, then an injunction must be issued at that point as the interest of the general public is more important than the interest of the individual.
Difference between doctrine of laches and statute of limitation
When a person comes across the doctrine of laches, a sudden question pops up in mind that the statute of limitation and doctrine of laches are alike. The genesis of both statutes is to ensure that the claims should be brought within a reasonable period so that witnesses and evidence can be found easily. Statute of limitation is a law that provides maximum time to the parties who are involved in a dispute to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an offense committed. The purpose of laches is to ensure that the claims are brought in a reasonable or appropriate time as that will also help to contact witnesses and find evidence easily.
|Doctrine of Laches
|Statute of Limitation
|1. Laches limits a person who sleeps over their rights or is aware of their rights but didn’t take action within a reasonable period.
|1. It bars a person to file suit beyond a prescribed amount of time, depending upon its jurisdiction.
|2. Strict adherence to the law is mandatory.
|2. It is discretion of the judge whether he finds the delay reasonable or unreasonable.
|3. This doctrine is based upon the principle of equity.
|3. This statute is based upon public policy.
|4. It is a fact based defense.
|4. It is a legal defense.
|5. If a wife claims her part from her husband’s will after eight years of his demise, it is the discretion of the judge whether he finds the reason justified or not.
|5. In New York, the limitation is 6 years for disputes related to any kind of contract.
Z is the owner of a certain plot of land. A portion of Z’s land has been included in the sale deed of Y by mistake which was purchased by W. W thinking that he is the owner of the whole property which he purchased and he paid money for that whole part, started construction there. Z was aware of everything and knew the fact that his plot has been mistakenly included in the sale deed of W. It is the duty of Z to inform W about his ownership. Here, Z indirectly allows W to complete the construction. Z would be barred by laches here but the period of limitation to file a case is still available. Here, it explains that the remedy of the doctrine of laches may become barred before the time period prescribed by law has expired.
This doctrine is a relief to the respondent in cases where the petitioner spent way too much time filing a lawsuit. It is a defense for the respondent to escape his liability from any charges. The inherent part of this doctrine relies upon the good faith of the judge. It is accepted without any doubt that doctrine has played a crucial role in maintaining equity in the judicial process. However, the lack of education and laziness of the petitioner in exercising his legal rights at a particular time is an advantage for the respondent to issue this doctrine and the burden of proof will lie on the petitioner. The application of the doctrine of laches is uncodified as it depends upon the judge to make decisions on limiting the matters based on the conditions revolving around the case.
Therefore, it can be said that this doctrine is a watchdog in a legal system of justice, which guarantees only the right cases should be entertained and any unreasonable delay in filing a suit is a reprimand for the petitioner.
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