Everything you need to know about ‘Condonation of Delay’

The Limitation Act 1908 lays down the limitation period of institution of civil suits, filing appeals and applications in the court. The main object of this law is that if any suit, appeal or application is not filed within their prescribed period, the suit shall be dismissed at the expiry of such period. The court shall not entertain any suit, appeal or application after its limitation has elapsed. This obstacle is often referred to as ‘barred by limitation’. 

The term ‘barred by limitation’ means expiry of the prescribed period of filing a civil suit. The 1st Schedule of the Act prescribes many different time limits for various cases. For example, some suits require filing within 12 years from the time the cause of action arose while some suits provide 3 years time limit for filing it to the court. Failing to institute it within the prescribed period would result in dismissal of the suit as mentioned by section 3 of the Act. But this same Act itself has provided a remedy through another section.

s.5 of the Act deals with condonation of delay. It gives the opportunity of extension of limitation period in certain cases. Under this section, an application for the extension of limitation period can be made in appeals, application for review, application for revision or any application under any law where s.5 has been made applicable.
In order to succeed in getting an application under s.5 granted, two things must be ensured:

  1. ‌Sufficient Cause
  2. Satisfaction of the Court

Sufficient Cause:

Although it is a requirement of s.5,  the definition of ‘sufficient cause’ has not been given anywhere in the limitation act. It depends entirely on the court’s discretion in determining the reasonableness of the cause. However, few situations are commonly taken as sufficient cause by the court. They are:

  • ‌Illness of the party
  • ‌Illness of the pleader
  • ‌Illness of the pleader and ignorance of the client
  • ‌Bona Fide Mistake
  • ‌Advocate’s wrong advice
  • ‌Client confused by two conflicting judgments of the court
  • ‌Imprisonment

Satisfying the court with any of the above circumstances is a daunting task. As a common sufficient cause, many refer Illness as the reason for the delay but in reality, the illness has to be so severe that the person literally becomes disabled to lead a normal life. That is when the court may upon its discretion, take his excuse.

In the case of Allha Wasaye v Muhammad Shakir, PLD (1958), the court held that sufficient cause is something that is beyond the control of the party. Similar decision has been given in Ata Ullah Malik v Custodian of Evacuee Property, PLD (1964)

Satisfaction of the Court:

It is a reasonable and judicial discretion of the court to be satisfied by the reasonableness of the plea of sufficient cause. The court is not bound to grant the application of condonation of delay and it cannot be claimed as of right. [Ram lal v Rewa Coal Fields, AIR (1962)] and (Bangladesh v Abdul Wohab)

Can you seek for condonation of delay in a special law?
In the general interpretation of law, where there is a conflict between special law and general law, the special law would prevail. The Limitation Act is a general law. Thus any special law would certainly have primacy over it.

s. 29 (2) of the Limitation Act provides that where any special law provides limitation period of filing suits or appeals that is different from that of the 1st schedule of the Limitation Act, s.3 of the Act will be applied in such a way as if such period has already been mentioned in the 1st schedule. 

Therefore the limitation periods set in the 1st schedule won’t affect the ones mentioned in any special law. For example, special laws like the Special Powers Act 1974 or the Artha Rhin Adalat Ain, all have specified limitation period of their own and the Limitation Act wont be applicable. [Ahsan Ali v District Judge and Settlement Commissioner, Sukkur and Others, PLD (1969)] 

An example of how the limitation act wont be applied in special laws is given below:

s.30 of the Special Powers Act 1974 provides that appeals from judgments must be made within 30 days. Failing to do so would mean dismissal of the suit. Since Limitation Act here does not come to play, no benefit of s. 5 can be obtained. However, s.9-12 and s. 22 of the Limitation Act are not barred by the Special Powers Act.

Therefore the principle of condonation of delay is a remedy provided by the Limitation Act itself in order to soften the strict deadlines. 

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