Statutes of limitations are laws passed by legislative bodies in common law systems to set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated.
When the period of time specified in a statute of limitations passes, a claim might no longer be filed, or, if filed, may be liable to be struck out if the defense against that claim is, or includes, that the claim is time-barred as having been filed after the statutory limitations period. When a statute of limitations expires in a criminal case, the courts no longer have jurisdiction. Most crimes that have statutes of limitations are distinguished from serious crimes as these may be brought at any time.
In civil law systems, similar provisions are typically part of their civil or criminal codes and known collectively as periods of prescription. The cause of action dictates the statute of limitations, which can be reduced (or extended) to ensure a fair trial. The intention of these laws is to facilitate resolution within a "reasonable" length of time. What period of time is considered "reasonable" varies from country to country, and within countries such as the United States from state to state. Within countries and states, the statute of limitations may vary from one civil or criminal action to another. Some nations have no statute of limitations whatsoever.
Analysis of a statute of limitations also requires the examination of any associated statute of repose, tolling provisions, and exclusions.
Common law legal systems can include a statute specifying the length of time within which a claimant or prosecutor must file a case. In some civil jurisdictions (e.g., California), a case cannot begin after the period specified, and courts have no jurisdiction over cases filed after the statute of limitations has expired. In some other jurisdictions (e.g., New South Wales, Australia), a claim can be filed which may prove to have been brought outside the limitations period, but the court will retain jurisdiction in order to determine that issue, and the onus is on the defendant to plead it as part of their defence, or else the claim will not be statute barred.
Once filed, cases do not need to be resolved within the period specified in the statute of limitations.
The purpose and effect of statutes of limitations are to protect defendants. There are three reasons for their enactment:
A plaintiff with a valid cause of action should pursue it with reasonable diligence.
By the time a stale claim is litigated, a defendant might have lost evidence necessary to disprove the claim.
Litigation of a long-dormant claim may result in more cruelty than justice.
In Classical Athens, a five-year statute of limitations was established for all cases except homicide and the prosecution of non-constitutional laws (which had no limitation). Demosthenes wrote that these statutes of limitations were adopted to control "sycophants" (professional accusers).
The limitation period generally begins when the plaintiff's cause of action accrues, meaning the date upon which the plaintiff is first able to maintain the cause of action in court, or when the plaintiff first becomes aware of a previous injury (for example, occupational lung diseases such as asbestosis).
In civil law countries, almost all lawsuits must be brought within a legally-determined period known as prescription. Under Italian and Romanian law, criminal trials must be ended within a time limit.
In criminal cases, the public prosecutor must lay charges within a time limit which varies by jurisdiction and varies based on the nature of the charge; in many jurisdictions, there is no statute of limitations for murder. Over the last decade of the 20th century, many United States jurisdictions significantly lengthened the statute of limitations for
sex offenses, particularly against children, as a response to research and popular belief that a variety of causes can delay the recognition and reporting of crimes of this
Common triggers for suspending the prescription include a defendant's fugitive status or the commission of a new crime. A criminal may be convicted in absentia. Prescription should not be confused with the need to prosecute within "a reasonable delay" as obligated by the European Court of Human Rights.
Under international law, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are usually not subject to the statute of limitations as codified in a number of multilateral treaties. States ratifying the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to
War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity agree to disallow limitations claims for these crimes. In Article 29 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, genocide,
crimes against humanity and
war crimes "shall not be subject to any statute of limitations"
Unlike other European countries, the United Kingdom has no statute of limitations for serious sexual crimes.
A criminal statute of limitations defines a time period during which charges must be initiated for a criminal offense. If a charge is filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant may obtain dismissal of the charge.
Initiation of charges
The statute of limitations in a criminal case only runs until a criminal charge is filed and a warrant is issued, even if the defendant is a fugitive.
When the identity of a defendant is not known, some jurisdictions provide mechanisms to initiate charges and thus stop the statute of limitations from running. For example, some states allow an indictment of a "John Doe" defendant based upon a DNA profile derived from evidence obtained through a criminal
investigation. Although rare, a grand jury can issue an indictment in absentia for high-profile crimes to get around an upcoming statute of limitations deadline. One example is the skyjacking of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 by D.B. Cooper in 1971. The identity of D. B. Cooper remains unknown to this day, and he was indicted under the name "John Doe, aka Dan Cooper."
FRAUD UPON THE COURT
When an officer of the court is found to have fraudulently presented facts to impair the court's impartial performance of its legal task, the act (known as fraud upon the court) is not subject to a statute of limitation. Officers of the court include lawyers,
judges, referees, legal guardians, parenting-time expeditors, mediators, evaluators, administrators, special appointees and any others whose influence is part of the judicial mechanism.
Fraud upon the court has been defined by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to "embrace that species of
fraud which does, or attempts to, defile the court itself, or is a fraud perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery cannot perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication".
In Bulloch v. United States, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled: "Fraud upon the court is fraud which is directed to the judicial machinery itself and is not fraud between the parties or fraudulent documents, false statements or perjury ... It is where the court or a member is corrupted or function—thus where the impartial functions of the court have been directly corrupted."
LIMITATIONS PERIODS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
In the United Kingdom, there are time limits after which court actions cannot be taken in certain types of cases. These differ across the three legal systems in the United
Wales and Northern
The key legislation relating to civil claims in England and Wales is the Limitation Act 1980, which lists the time to various types of cases.
If a lender allows six years to pass without receiving any payment, an action for recovery may become statute-barred.
The general time limit for injury litigation is three years, with multiple exceptions and special cases. The statute of limitations for injuries to children only starts at the eighteenth birthday. The statute of limitations for brain damage begins only when the victim has been medically acknowledged as regaining cognitive ability. The Montreal Convention (1999) and the Athens Convention (1974) govern the statute of limitations for compensation for injuries on an airplane or while at sea, respectively.
The limitation period for libel, slander, slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood is one year.
In relation to criminal matters, Section 127 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 states that normally:
a magistrates’ court shall not try an information or hear a complaint unless the information was laid, or the complaint made, within 6 months from the time when the offence was committed, or the matter of complaint arose.
'information is laid for the purposes of section 127 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 when it is received at the office of the clerk to the justices for the relevant area'. It is not necessary for the information to be personally received by a justice of the peace or by the clerk of the justices.
Unlike other European countries, the UK has no statute of limitations applying to serious
Road Traffic Offenders Act
Section 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 requires a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) to be served within 14 days of applicable offences being committed; if that does not occur, it may follow that any further action may be prevented. However, there are exceptions to the 14 day rule: if the alleged offence was committed in a company car or the car was not being driven by the registered keeper of the vehicle are all examples of exception to that day to allow the police to make appropriate investigations. The date of the offence is excluded.
The onus is on the body issuing the Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) to ensure the Notice is served within 14 days. The definition of "served" has changed. Prior to 1994, NIPs were served by registered or recorded post, but in 1994, the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 was amended to allow for standard postal delivery. Several successful defences to a NIP have been conducted on the production of the envelope that contained the NIP in which the postmark on the envelope indicated to a court that the NIP could not have been received (served) within the 14 day limit.
Representation of the People Act
Section 176 of the Representation of the People Act 1986, requires that proceedings for any offence within the act begin within one year of the offence being committed.