Interpretation of statutes

This article is written by Jaya Vats, a practising advocate in Delhi. In this article, the author gives a detailed study of the meaning of the statute of limitations and its origin. This article also provides an in-depth analysis of the need for limitations, the Limitation Act, 1963, and certain judicial pronouncements decreed under the Limitation Act, 1963.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


The meaning of the term ‘limitation’ is evident. In its technical sense, the word ‘limitation’ means a restriction or the run or situations that are confined. The law of limitation is granted in various cases to the abused individual within which these individuals can access the court for reconsideration or justice. It is critical to have a thorough understanding of the law of limitation, but it isn’t relied on by every native to ace the numerous arrangements that have been made to impede various legal concerns. The Law of Limitation entails keeping track of the last date for numerous legal movements that may be made against an afflicted individual and pursuing the suit and looking for healing or respect under the careful eye of the court. If a claim is filed after the obstacle bar, it will be subject to the law of limitation. The basic and central goal of impediment legislation is to safeguard the lengthy practice of penalising an individual in a circuitous way without committing any violation.

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What is statute of limitations

A limitation period is a piece of legislation that controls the time period in which civil or criminal action can be brought against a defendant. Such statutes exist to shield defendants against unfair legal proceedings; for example, an accused will no longer be in control of essential material relevant to justifying themselves after a long period of time. The limitation of statutes has a lengthy history, both as separate legislative actions and as part of general statutory law.

A statute of limitations is a piece of legislation that specifies the maximum time frame within which civil or criminal legal actions can be launched following an alleged offence. Some statutes are prescribed by law, while others are based on common law precedent. Once a statute of limitations has passed, no criminal or civil action relating to the indictable offence may be taken against the accused perpetrator. Statutes of limitations may be written to commence on the date of the indictable offence or on the day the offence was found. Statutes of limitations apply to nearly all civil actions. Serious criminal acts, such as murder or sexual offences, may, nevertheless, be exempt from any statute of limitations.

Origin of statute of limitations

Limitation regulations have been in existence for a long time. Except for murder, every offence in ancient Greece had a five-year limitation period. These statutes were also included in mediaeval Roman legislation.

Since the end of the Roman Empire, several statutes of limitations have either been expressly incorporated into the laws of various countries or have persisted as part of the legal system. However, the majority of contemporary western jurisprudence is founded on English law, which did not begin to fully define the limitation period until the 17th century. The time period required by statutes of limitations varies considerably. While statutes of limitations for significant criminal acts may span extremely lengthy periods of time, laws pertaining to things like estate settlement or administration may only cover a very short amount of time – possibly six months to a year.

As per the Uniform Commercial Code, parties involved in the contract for the sale of goods may by contractual agreements acknowledge to limit any litigation associated with the sale to as little as one year, and may not contractually comply to extend the period of obligation much further than continuing to exist, relevant statutes of constraints.

Why do we have limitation periods

While victims of criminal or civil offences may believe that a limitation period barring prosecution of a perpetrator denies them justice, such restrictions exist for a variety of reasonable reasons. The primary objective of establishing a limitation period is to protect potential defendants from unjust trial or other legal action.

One problem that offers ascent to statutes of limitations is the possibility that crucial evidence may have been lost after many years. If this is the case, it may unduly impede either the prosecutor or the defence and result in an unjust verdict.

Reliable witness testimony is highly concerning, especially if no official claim was made by a witness at the time of the criminal offence. People’s memories deteriorate and become less trustworthy with time, so it is deemed unrealistic to expect individuals to recall specifics from an occurrence that occurred decades ago.

It is also argued that bringing a suit against an accused perpetrator for an offence perpetrated in the distant past is just unreasonable. Of course, this type of prosecution limitation is considerably more common in civil situations than in significant criminal acts.

Difference between the law of limitation and the doctrine of laches

The concept of laches is derived from the notion of equity. According to Halsbury’s Law of England, “the legislature in establishing a statute of limitation defines a fixed period beyond which claims are barred. Equity does not fix a precise limit but evaluates the facts of each case in assessing whether there has been such a delay as to amount to laches.”

In the context of equitable relief, the English courts of equity refused to provide such relief to a petitioner who had slept on his rights wilfully. This approach applies in India as well, if discretionary court orders, such as particular performance, short or long injection, and receivership, are sought. In such circumstances, courts may nevertheless reject relief if the applicant’s delay has harmed the defendant, even though the applicant arrived in court within the Limitation Act’s time limit.

The theory of limitation differs from the doctrine of laches in its foundation. The former (limiting theory) is based on public policy and usefulness, whereas the latter is based on equity. Laches, like restrictions, preclude the plaintiff from his remedy, but it is based on basic principles of justice and fairness, whereas limitation is based on stated legislation.

The Limitation Act, 1963

The Limitation Act, 1859, and thereafter, the Limitation Act, 1963, were approved on October 5th, 1963, and went into effect on January 1st, 1964. The Limitation Act, 1963 enunciates the laws pertaining to the law of limitation in India. These laws were created to consolidate and rectify the legal norms relating to the restraint of litigation and other legal proceedings.

The Limitation Act is divided into 32 sections and 137 articles. The Articles have been divided into ten parts. The first segment deals with accounts; the second with gains; the third with statements; the fourth with notifications and instruments; the fifth with sustaining property; the sixth with adaptable property; the seventh with torts; the eighth with trust funds and trust property; and the ninth with incidental issues. There is no universal limitation on the suits under which organisations have attempted to operate.

Purpose of the Limitation Act

It is worth noting that, while the whole structure of the Limitation Act is built on the equitable notion that “delay undermines justice,” it is also agreed that there really is no fairness in the Limitation Act. This means that, while the basis for providing a time frame of limitation is the equal and fair principle that disputes must be limited to a fixed period of time, lest they become invincible while men are mortal, there is no equal and fair basis for prescribing this period of limitation for a specific class of suits. The time limitation imposed in the Act’s Schedule is based on legislative wisdom, and the Supreme Court has emphasised that looking for fair proposals serves no value.

Thus, the sole aim of the statute of limitations is to prevent litigation (appeals and applications) submitted after the time limit from being heard by the courts. However, it is also true that the Limitation Act must be read in a way that keeps the action alive. As a result, to the greatest extent feasible, the limitation should not be permitted to exclude the petitioner from availing of the remedy, and the presumption of legality shall be in his favour.

Reasoning behind the limitation period

There was no established legislation in India regulating the time of limitation for instituting action against the offender until 1859. At the time, regulations were issued at regular intervals to establish the term of restriction. However, the Limitation Act of 1859 was the first legislation pertaining to prescription in India, followed by Act 9 of 1871. Until 1908, the use of a statute of limitations was not seen as a significant concern. Finally, in 1908, the Limitation Act was established, which unified the legislation concerning the limitation of actions, appeals, and applications. The current Limitation Act went into effect on January 1, 1964, with the goal of consolidating and amending the legislation governing the limitation of suits and other processes.

The logic behind limitation legislation is that an infinite and continual threat of lawsuits breeds scepticism and produces a sense of turmoil. As a result, limiting regulations have been developed to protect the public interest while also ensuring stability and expediency. However, the courts have the authority to excuse delay if an adequate cause is proven for failing to seek the remedies within the time limit.  The law of limitation imposes a time limit for seeking redress for such legal harm. As time passes, newer issues emerge, necessitating the need for newer people to seek legal redress through the courts. As a result, a life duration must be established in order to benefit from such a remedy.

Characteristics of the law of limitation

Certain elements which define the Limitation Act of 1963 are as follows:

  • There is no uniformity of restriction for the claims for which classifications have been made.
  • Whereas different types of suits pertaining to immovable property, trusts and endowments have a longer period of 12 years prescribed, suits pertaining to transactions, agreements and proclamations, suits pertaining to decrees and instruments, and suits relating to movable property have a shorter period of 3 years prescribed.
  • When the mortgagor files a lawsuit to reclaim the immovable property that was mortgaged, when a mortgagee files a lawsuit to foreclose on a property that has been mortgaged, when a suit is filed by or on behalf of the central government, or when any other party files a lawsuit, the limitation period is shortened from 60 years to 30 years.
  • Claims pertaining to torts and miscellaneous matters, as well as suits for which no term of limitation is given elsewhere in the Schedule to the Act, have a duration ranging from one to three years.
  • It is to be interpreted as the Act’s minimum time of seven days for an appeal against a death sentence delivered by the High Court or Court of Session in the exercise of original jurisdiction, which has been increased to 30 days from the day of the sentence given.
  • Among the most notable features of the Limitation Act of 1963 is that it must avoid the illustration suggested by the 3rd Report of the Law Commission on the Limitation Act of 1908, since the illustrations provided are sometimes unneeded and misleading.
  • The Limitation Act of 1963 has a fairly broad range that includes practically all court actions. The term ‘application’ has been broadened to embrace any petition, original or not. The amendment in the text of Section 2 and Section 5 of the Limitation Act of 1963 now encompasses all petitions as well as applications under special statutes.
  • The definitions of ‘application,’ ‘plaintiff,’ and ‘defendant’ under the new Act have been expanded to encompass more than just the individual who filed the application.
  • Before suing foreign rulers, ambassadors, and envoys, Sections 86 and  89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 require the Central Government’s approval. The Limitation Act of 1963 states that the time spent getting such consent shall be omitted from the computation of the period of limitation for filing such proceedings.

Judicial pronouncements

  1. In the case of Rukhmabai v. Lala Laxminarayan, 1959, the Hon’ble Supreme Court concluded that the competence to litigate under Article 120 of the 1908 Act is invoked when the respondent obviously or indisputably threatens to violate the plaintiff’s rights alleged in the litigation. The Court reaffirmed that any threat made by a party to such a right, no matter how ineffectual or benign, cannot be regarded as a clear and direct threat sufficient to require him to initiate an action.
  2. The Supreme Court of India ruled in Rajender Singh v. Santa Singh, 1973 that “the purpose of the Act of Limitation is to counterbalance the disturbing impact or hardship of what may have been gained in worth and equity by a lengthy delight or what may have been lost by a gathering’s own unique inactivity, negligence, or hooks.”
  3. In the case of Union of India & Ors. v. West Coast Paper Mills Ltd. & Anr., 2004 the Supreme Court declared that in circumstances in which the ability to sue may accrue to a petitioner in a particular case at various periods of time, under Article 58, the period of limitation will be calculated from the date over which the claim for damages emerged first. However, under Article 113, the limitation period would be distinct.
  4. In the matter of Khatri Hotels Private Limited & Anr. v. Union of India & Anr. 2011, the Court observed that the legislature knowingly deviated from the wording of Article 120 of the 1908 Act while enacting Article 58 of the Act. Between the terms ‘sue’ and ‘acquired,’ the word ‘first’ has been used. As a result, if a claim is brought on numerous grounds, the statute of limitations will begin to run from the day when the ability to sue is initially incurred under Article 58.
  5. In the matter of Shakti Bhog Food Industries Ltd. v. The Central Bank of India and Anr., 2020, the Hon’ble Supreme Court specifically defined when the three-year limitation period specified by Article 113(2) of the Limitation Act, 1963 begins. It has also emphasised the need to evaluate the averments of a plaintiff as a whole when deciding an appeal for dismissal of a plaint under Order VII Rule 11(3) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

Law of limitations in other countries

Various nations throughout the world have different limitation laws. Some of these are;

United Kingdom

In Britain, the statutory (limitation) term for contractual and tortious claims is five years. It is 3 years for personal injury claims. The lawsuit must be filed and served on the opposite party within this time frame in both situations. The lawsuit is said to have been prescribed when the time term has elapsed, and the right to compel is gone. According to the Limitation Act of 1980, lawsuits founded on the law of tort (i.e., civil wrongs) or infringement must be filed within 6 years of the claim for damages arising, which is either the date of the act or omission or the date of the breach of contract, respectively. However, a separate statute of limitations may be applicable, for instance, if the lawsuit is founded on the infringement of a contract (in which case a 12-year limitation period applies).

The United States of America

The limitation time for civil lawsuits differs by jurisdiction and is determined by the nature of the claim. These periods normally vary from one to six years, although they can be extended based on the applicable state legislation and the claim at issue.


Though there may be some variation amongst Canadian regions, a lawsuit must normally be filed within 2 years of the date the fundamental claim for damages arose. If the claims could only have been rationally identified at a later date than the date the cause of action first accrued, the statute of limitations will be extended.


In most areas of law, the idea of limitation is required. Most nations’ criminal law systems apply restrictions to most offences, though the most heinous offences are not included under the limitation period. It should be emphasised, however, that limitation legislation does not guarantee the duration of a trial or its end, but only when the criminal justice system can be used. That’s where the basic right to a quick trial comes into play as well. Regardless, the legislature and courts continue to take constructive measures to improve and preserve unity in the many parts of limitation law. Every piece of legislation is a representation of the juncture in which it is enacted. The motives for enacting the Law of Limitations are commendable, and one must commend the influence it has had on the judicial system.


Which date is to be considered in calculating the term of limitations under the Indian Limitation Act?

There are various calendars in use in India, such as Samvat, Bengali, and so on. However, the time of limitation should not be computed using the local date. When a document contains just a native date and is rendered due after a particular period, that time, whether expressed by the month or the year, is to be calculated using the British Calendar.

Is the Limitation Act of 1963 applicable to proceedings brought under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution?

The Limitation Act is a comprehensive code that governs the law of limitation in India in all subjects explicitly addressed by it, and courts are not authorised to go beyond its provisions to add or modify them. The Act does not apply to subjects not included by it, and there will be no limitations on such items. Because there is no time restriction for filing a petition filed under Article 32 or 226 of the Indian Constitution, the Act does not apply to such processes.


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