Judicial Dictionary

Delay and Laches:

Delay and laches is one of the factors that requires to be borne in mind by the High Courts when they exercise their discretionary power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. In an appropriate case, the High Court may refuse to invoke its extraordinary powers if there is such negligence or omission on the part of the applicant to assert his rights taken in conjunction with the lapse of time and other circumstances. The Privy Council in Lindsay Petroleum Company v. Prosper Armstrong Hurd etc. (1874) 5 PC 221 . which was approved by this Court in Moon Mills Ltd. v. Industrial Courts AIR 1967 SC 1450 and Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation v. Balwant Regular Motor Service, AIR 1969 SC 329, has stated:

Now the doctrine of laches in Courts of Equity is not an arbitrary or a technical doctrine. Where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the party has, by his conduct, done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted in either of these cases, lapse of time and delay are most material. But in every case, if an argument against relief, which otherwise would be just, is founded upon mere delay, that delay of course not amounting to a bar by any statute of limitations, the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable. Two circumstances, always important in such cases, are, the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy.

In Amrit Lal Berry v. CCE, (1975) 4 SCC 714, Supreme Court took the view that “if a Petitioner has been so remiss or negligent as to approach the Court for relief after an inordinate and unexplained delay, he certainly jeopardises his claims as it may become inequitable, with circumstances altered by lapse of time and other facts, to enforce, a fundamental right to the detriment of similar claims of innocent third persons.”

In State of Maharashtra v. Digambar, (1995) 4 SCC 683, Supreme Court observed that “unless the facts and circumstances of the case at hand clearly justify the laches or undue delay, writ Petitioners are not entitled to any relief against any body including the State.”

In Shiv Dass v. Union of India, (2007) 9 SCC 274, Supreme Court opined that “the High Court does not ordinarily permit a belated resort to the extraordinary remedy because it is likely to cause confusion and public inconvenience and bring in its train new injustices, and if writ jurisdiction is exercised after unreasonable delay, it may have the effect of inflicting not only hardship and inconvenience but also injustice on third parties. It was pointed out that when writ jurisdiction is invoked, unexplained delay coupled with the creation of third party rights in the meantime is an important factor which also weighs with the High Court in deciding whether or not to exercise such jurisdiction.”


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