Applicability of Limitation Act
I. The Act applies to all suits and appeals and certain applications specified in the Articles of the Act (applications included the petition). The provisions of the Limitation Act are applicable only in relation to certain application and not all applications despite the fact that words “other proceedings” were added in the long title of the Act in 1963.
Thus, the following applications are not covered by the Act:
1. an application for a succession certificate to collect the debts due to the estate of a deceased person.
2. an application for probate or letters of administration;
3. an application to a court to exercise the function of a ministerial character for example an application for the grant of a sale certificate;
4. an application invoking the invoking inherent powers of court;
5. an application to a court to do what the court is bound to do. There is no bar of limitation to invoke the jurisdiction of the courts under section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code for correction of accidental slip or omission in judgments, orders or decrees for clerical errors.
The Limitation act applies only to such application as a party is bound to make to obtain the relief he seeks but does not apply where the application relates to action which the court ought to take suo moto irrespective of whether the parties applied for it or not.
II. Limitation only applies to institution of proceedings not to their continuation- The bar does not apply to steps which constitute a mere continuation of pending proceeding. Where a suit is validly instituted, but the plaint is returned for some purpose and represented, such representation is only a continuation of the suit and does not affect. the question of limitation.
An application for final decree in a suit for partition is not governed by any provision of Limitation Act as the final decree proceeding is a continuation of the suit.
III. Limitation and Criminal Proceeding- The Limitation Act does not apply to criminal proceedings unless it is made applicable to them by express provisions (for example period of limitation have been provided for appeals under the Criminal Procedure Code in Articles 114 ans 115; Art 131 of Limitation Act applies to application criminal revision). The reason is that it is undesirable that persons who have been guilty of serious crimes should be free from the reach of the long arms of the law after a few years time (thus, criminals would hide themselves for a few years in order to become immune from prosecution).
There is no limitation generally for filing a complaint of a criminal offence unless a penal law creating the offence prescribes any period within which the complaint has to be made in respect thereof.
IV. Applicability to fundamental rights and writ petition- The Supreme Court has made it clear that no period of limitation can be prescribed for a person aggrieved by the State action challenging such an action as violating fundamental rights and filing a petition under Art. 32 of Constitution. Such principle of limitation period would have the effect of putting curbs in the way of enforcement of fundamental rights. However, there should not be any undue delay (i.e laches) on the part of the aggrieved party.
The Supreme Court held improper the dismissal of writ petition by high Court on the ground that it was not filed within 90 days of the date on which impugned order was passed by the executive authority, as no limitation is prescribed for the purpose of filing a writ petition against an executive action.
V. Applicability to Arbitration proceeding- By section 37 of the Arbitration Act, all the provisions of the Limitation Act, have been made to apply to arbitration as they apply to proceeding in Court.
VI. Applicability to other proceedings- The provisions of the Limitation Act are not applicable to proceedings before bodies other then courts, such as a quasi-judicial tribunal or even an executive authority. The Act has no application to a departmental proceeding.
The Limitation Act is not applicable to a proceeding under section 33(C)(2) of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947. The Act does not apply to election petition inasmuch as the Representation of People Act 1951, is a complete and self-contained code which does not admit the introduction of the provisions of Limitation Act. In practice, the bankers do not set up the statute of limitation against their customers or their legal representative.
VII. Limitation bars suit, not defence- The Limitation Act is applicable to suit brought by the plaintiff; it does not apply to a right set up by the defendant in defence. Thus the defendant can plead that the instrument is voidable even if his suit to set it aside on the ground of its voidability is barred by limitation. Even if a suit for setting aside a decree on the ground of fraud is barred by limitation, the defendant can still impeach such decree as fraudulent. Likewise, the mortgagee can set up in defence a time-barred mortgage deed.
The plea of limitation can be raised only as against the Plaintiff, and not as against the defendant. The object of the Limitation Act is to prevent a person from seeking to enforce a stale demand, and not to prevent a person from raising any defence that he likes. A ground of defence cannot become stale or barred by limitation, and it would therefore be open to a defendant to put forward a defence though such defence as a claim made by him may be barred on the date it is put forward.
But where a suit by a defendant would have been barred under section 25 or section 27 of the Act, the defendant cannot set up his right by way of defence. Similarly, a claim cannot be pleaded, unless such a claim is within the period of limitation. [Sec. 3(2)(b)].
VIII. Contract curtailing the period of limitation- The parties cannot by consent or agreement curtail, extend or alter the period of limitation. A person cannot contract himself out of the statute of limitation, nor is he estopped from pleading the statute of limitation.
A contract which provides that a suit should be brought for the breach of any terms of the contract within a time shorter than the period of limitation prescribed by law of limitation is void so far as the term is concerned. Such a term is void because it absolutely restricts the parties from enforcing their rights after the expiration of a period stipulated though such suit may be within the period of limitation prescribed under this Act. Such agreement will be void under Section 28 of the Contract Act resulting in ‘restraint of legal proceedings’.
An agreement, or a clause in an agreement, not to sue for some time is invalid if its effect is to enlarge the period of limitation. The court cannot recognize any such arrangement between the parties. Such an agreement is void under section 23 of the contract Act, as being of such a nature that, if permitted, it would ‘defeat the provisions of law’.
IX. Applicability to ultra vires Acts- The period of limitation prescribed by the limitation act to do not apply to ultra vires Acts. Question of limitation does not arise if the impugned order is void.