Extension of time in filing of a Civil Suit


This article was written by Arunima Banerjee a student of University of Calcutta.

The Limitation Act, 1963 lays down the time limit within which a person can file a suit to seek justice. A law suit which is filed after the limited period as prescribed in the Limitations Act, 1963 contravenes the law of limitation. However, Section 5 of the Limitations Act, 1963 states the cases in which the court may admit a case which is filed after the prescribed period. Section 5 of the Limitations Act, 1963 states:

“Any appeal or any application, other than an application under any of the provisions of Order XXI of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) may be admitted after the prescribed period if the appellant or, the applicant satisfies the court that he had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal or making the application within such period”

Hence, Section 5 of the Limitations Act the court may admit any application or appeal after the prescribed period only if the person filing the case shows the court that he/she had sufficient cause to not make the application or appeal as per the provisions of the Limitations Act.

An explanation to Section 5 states that if it is proved that any person failed to prefer an appeal or make an application within the specified time because that person was misled by any order, practice and judgement of the High Court while he was computing or ascertaining the period in which he should file the application or appeal then it will be regarded as a sufficient cause for the delay in filing the said application.

In a case where the person filing the suit manages to show sufficient cause to the court for making such application or appeal after the prescribed period then such application or appeal shall be accepted by the court. In these cases, the court ignores the delay in making the application or appeal and hear and decide the matter on the merits of the case.

What is sufficient cause?

The term ‘sufficient cause’ has not been defined by the Limitations Act. It is, however, very wide. Comprehensive and elastic in nature. The courts have interpreted the term expression in a very liberal manner so as to advance the cause of justice. Normally, an aggrieved party which approaches the court of law with a grievance should not be deprived of being heard by the court based on the merits of the case unless something shows that there was gross negligence or total inaction or want of bonafide on the part of the appellant or applicant. The courts should try to interpret the expression sufficient cause in a realistic manner and adopt common sense approach while interpreting the expression. While doing so, the court should try to do substantial justice between the parties.

The question whether there was sufficient cause in not preferring the appeal or make the application within the prescribed period depends entirely upon the facts and circumstances of each case and no rule of universal applicability can be laid down in this case.

Object of Limitation

A law of limitation is a statute of repose, peace and justice. It is intended to do just in as much as it takes into consideration ground reality that the right of parties should not be in constant doubt, dispute or uncertainty. Statutes of limitation are broadly based on two well-known legal maxims:

  1. Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium which means that it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation.
  2. Vigilantibus Non Dormientibus jura Subveniunt which means that the law assists the vigilant and not one who sleeps over his rights.

Some persuasive grounds which support the law of limitation are as follows:

  1. Long dormant claims have more cruelty than justice in them
  2. A defendant might have lost evidence to present in favour of him in a trial
  3. A person with a good cause of action should pursue his case with reasonable diligence.

Case Law

Collector (LA) v/s Katiji, 1987 AIR

In this case the Supreme Court laid down the following principles while dealing with an appeal or application not preferred within the period of limitation.

  1. Ordinarily, a litigant does not stand a benefit by lodging an appeal late.
  2. Refusing to condone delay can result in the meritorious matter being thrown out at the very threshold and cause of justice being defeated.
  3. ‘Every day’s delay must be explained’ does not mean that a pedantic approach should be made. The doctrine must be applied in a rational, common sense and pragmatic manner.
  4. When substantial justice and technical consideration are pitted against each other, cause of substantive justice deserves to be preferred, for the otherside cannot claim to have vested rights in injustice being done because of non-deliberative delay.
  5. There is no presumption that the delay is occasioned deliberately, or on account of culpable negligence, or on account of malafides. A litigant does not stand to benefit by resorting to delay, in fact he runs a serious risk.
  6. It must be grasped that judiciary is respected not on account of its powers to legalise injustice on technical grounds but because it is capable of removing injustice and is expected to do so.

State of Jammu and Kashmir v/s Ghulam Rasool Rather, 1989

In this case the court said that the expression ‘sufficient cause’ must be treated with a liberal approach by the courts in order to achieve substantive justice. The provisions of section 5 of the limitations Act, 1963 was not meant to take away the rights of the parties but so that they can claim remedy promptly even if they fail to make the application or prefer an appeal in time due to some substantive reason. In every case of condonation of delay, the court should keep in mind that the delay cause is due to the some lapse on the part of the applicant. However, this should not be reason to turn down the case and not hear his case. The court should always give utmost consideration to the plea of the applicant while hearing a case in relation to condonation of delay.

But if the court thinks that there is sufficient ground to think that such delay in preferring the appeal or making the application was done deliberately in order to earn time and weaken the case of the defendant then such a case shall not be regarded by the court. The discretion in cases relating to the condonation of delay lies completely with the court. However, such discretion must be exercised in a proper and judicious manner.

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