Statute of Limitation for Criminal Prosecution in India
The law of limitation renders a guarantee to the litigant, because after the lapse of a specified time period prescribed by the law, the public prosecutor will no longer be able to prosecute the offender for the prescribed offence. Statutes of Limitation do not create new obligations but only provide for a period within which proceedings must be brought.1 Law of limitation has been enunciated in the legal maxim “interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium” which means that it is for the general welfare to put a limit to litigation. The legislature strives to balance public interest by providing provisions for limitation on one hand and at the same time, it does not unreasonably restrict the right of a party to initiate proceedings.
This Part provides for a detailed analysis of the law of limitation for criminal offences in India. Limitation laws in India are prescribed in the Limitation Act, 1963 (“Limitation Act”). The Limitation Act is divided into five parts, out of which, Part 1 of the Limitation Act deals with preliminary provisions such as extent, commencement, and definitions; Part 2 provides for the limitation of suits, appeals, and applications; Part 3 deals with the computation of period of limitation; Part 4 deals with acquisition of ownership by possession and Part 5 lays down the miscellaneous provisions. Further, the Limitation Act contains a Schedule that provides for the period of limitation. However, the Limitation Act has no application to criminal proceedings, except to the extent where there are express provisions in the Schedule of the Limitation Act, such as Articles 114 and 115 providing for appeal under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”); Article 131 of Schedule of the Limitation Act applies to applications of Criminal Revisions; Article 132 (1) is applicable to situations where “certificate of fitness” must be acquired from the High Court in order to appeal to the Supreme Court of India under Article 134 (1) (c) of the Constitution of India and Article 133 applies to applications to the Supreme Court of India for special leave to appeal. Chapter XXXVI of the CrPC was introduced to provide for limitation period for launching criminal prosecution with respect to offences not punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding three years. The Chapter comprises of Sections 467 to 473 and came into force on April 1, 1974. The rationale behind the inclusion of a period of limitation in the CrPC to ensure that criminal prosecution system convicts and punishes the accused/offender quickly.
In addition to the applicable provisions for criminal proceedings as prescribed in the Limitation Act and the CrPC, there are various special statutes like the Police Act 1861, the Trade Marks Act, 1999, the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999, the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881, Factories Act, 1948 and the Army Act, 1950, wherein the limitation period is governed by the period prescribed in such special statute and not as prescribed under the CrPC. However, this Article does not deal with state specific amendments/laws relating to the law of limitation.
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