Wednesday, 10 March 2021

​Extension of limitation period in legal matters during lockdown

 The breakdown of novel COVID-19 has forced the government to implement various strict measures to flatten the curve which has consequentially given rise to new problems such as supply chain disruptions. The same has further given rise to various legal issues like parties not performing their obligations in a contract. Similarly, due to shutting down of the legal sector any potential or ongoing litigation has also been put on hold raising concerns in the public about time restrictions that are required to be followed in a case.

The law prescribes certain time restrictions that are to be followed while initiating or during the trial in different cases. However, legal matters arising during the period of lockdown cannot be initiated by the parties within the limitation period due to the shutting down of Courts as a result of the complete lockdown being implemented in the country.

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What is Limitation Period in Legal Matters?

The limitation period in legal matters refers to the maximum time that is set under the law that the parties involved have to initiate the legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense, whether civil or criminal. Although, the length of time the statute allows for a victim to bring legal action against the suspected wrong-doer can vary from one jurisdiction to another.

In general, the limitation period allowed under the law varies depending upon the nature of the offense. Usually, the limitation period apply to civil cases, however, criminal offenses can also have a limitation period. Cases involving serious crimes, such as murder, typically have no limitation period.


Extension of Limitation Period during the lockdown

As stated above, the lockdown has severely affected the functioning of courts across the country apart from having other adverse effects. In furtherance to complete lockdown in the country, the Supreme Court, various High Courts, and tribunals across the country have issued circulars restricting the functioning of Courts to only ‘extremely urgent matters’, ultimately resulting in the effective closure of Courts. Since only extremely urgent matters are being taken up through the mode of video conferencing, the courts have also taken into consideration the fate of “routine matters” that would go unattended during the lockdown period.

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In view of the extraordinary circumstances, the Indian courts have taken suo motu cognizance of the issues that might be faced by the people during the lockdown, such as the fate of the matters that were yet to be filed and the matters where deadlines for filings would fall within the lockdown period. The High Court of Delhi first addressed the issue of limitation wherein its order dated 23rd March it stated that the limitation for any court proceeding shall not run w.e.f. 23rd March 2020 to 04th April 2020 subject to further orders.

Similarly, the Supreme Court, on the very same day passed an order in a suo moto case on the issue of law of imitation stating the following:

“To obviate such difficulties and to ensure that the lawyers/ litigants do not have to come physically to file such proceedings in respective Courts/ Tribunals across the country including this Court, it is hereby ordered that a period of limitation in all such proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under general law or Special Laws whether condonable or not shall stand extended w.e.f. 15th March, 2020 till further orders to be passed by this Court in present proceedings.”

Therefore, till further orders are passed by the Apex Court, the prescribed limitation period shall be extended w.e.f 15th March, 2020. In case the prescribed limitation period for filing any petition/application/appeal has been expired within the said period of lockdown, the same would be required to be filed on reopening of courts after lockdown has been lifted. However, as stated in the order the limitation period would end upon further orders being passed by the Supreme Court.

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How can a lawyer help you?

If you wanted to initiate a case but could not due to the lockdown in force and are worried that the filing of your case may go beyond the deadline, it is important for you to understand the technicalities of the law involved. This is why it is recommended to have a civil lawyer by your side who can guide you with the correct procedures to be followed in unprecedented situations like these. A civil lawyer, owing to his years of experience, can assist you in filing your case and can ensure that the case is not beaten up on the technicalities while undermining its merits.

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