The purpose of limitation period of actionable rights is to serve as a defense from claims, actionable rights of which should have been brought in court earlier. The need for such defense is based on two considerations: 1) The presumption that a right not excercised for a long time is not existent, hence Vigilantibus non Dormetibus Jura Subveniunt –laws come to the assistance of vigilant and not the sleepy, 2) The rights should not be in a state of constant uncertainty, doubt and suspecon, in order to prevent persons from being harassed after something they have done in the past. Additionally, it serves a utilitarian approach protecting the courts from overload of claims and encourage claimants to bring their cases promptly when evidential material can still be found and brought to support the case. Cumulatively all the above reasons serve to the better and swifter administration of justice.
Current Legislative Framework
The legal regime with regards to the limitation of actionable rights in Cyprus is accepted to be determined by the rules, which exist at the time of the filing of a claim – Dimitriou v Dimitriou (2012). The current law governing the limitation periods in Cyprus is the Limitation of Actionable Rights Law 2012 (66(I)/2012) hereinafter referred to as the law.
The law prescribes the limitation periods for which a claim can be brought with regards to multiple spheres of law inter alia – claims in tort (6 years – subject to exceptions), contractual claims (6 years- subject to exceptions), claims related to mortgage or pledge (12 years) and other. The general limitation period for claims that are not enlisted in the law or in any other legislative instrument, are set at 10 years.
Formation of the Basis of the Claim
A common denominator for limitation period for all of these claims is the date of the formation of the basis of the claim, which starts the time count for the limitation period according to Article 3 of the law.
At the same time, according to the Article 2 of the law, the basis of the claim means the aggregate of all circumstances which establish the enforceable right which the claim relate. At the same time, the right is considered to be formed when all the necessary events a proof of which gives the right to a person to secure from the court a remedy against the other person exist – Halsbury’s Laws of England/Civil Procedure (Volume 11 (2015), paras 1-503 Basic Procedural Provisions/(1) Basic Definitions Used in Procedure/115. Cause of action.
For example, in the case of contracts, the formation of the basis of the claim can be considered the violation of the term of the contract provided the evidence to support the violation exist.
However, even though the Article 3 of the law affirms that the time of limitation starts to run from the date of the formation of the basis of the claim, after the amendment of the law in 2015, a second paragraph was included, which states that the limitation period starts to count from 1st January 2016.
Interpretation of Article 3 of the Law
The second paragraph of Article 3, was subject to multiple interpretations, and the lack of uniformity obviously constituted a hit towards the rights of the parties. The grammatical interpretation of the text, would simply revive claim rights in cases where the basis was formed decades ago. The Cyprus courts only in a fairly recent case touched upon the analysis of the interpretation of the Article 3.
In the case of Dimos Larnacas ν. Delimatsis (2020), the court has interpreted the Article 3 in the following way:
(The free translation is mine)
The time for the limitation period starts to run when the basis of the claim is formed but it can not end before the 1st of January 2016. Therefore, even if the time of the limitation based on the law has expired before the 1/1/16 the relevant claim can be brought up to 1/1/2016. If the imitation period has not expired before the 1/1/16, then the limitation period starts to count from the beginning starting from 1/1/2016. With such interpretation, the provisions of the law are not considered as inactive, since the new limitation period only starts for claims where their limitation period was not expired before 1/1/16. Those rights which already expired before the 1/1/16 are not surviving.
As a decisive factor in favor of the above interpretation of the Article 3, are the minutes from the Parliamentary session on which the amendment to the law was voted. It is mentioned, that in the discussions of the proposed amendment before the Parliamentary Committee, the Minister of Justice has stated that the aim of the amendment its not to revive the actionable rights whose limitation period already expired but to set a starting point for counting the limitation period for actionable rights whose limitation period has not expired on the date on which the proposed amending law shall take effect.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the common practice of using the equitable defense of unjustified delay or in latin Laches, for the claims, which have been initiated in court having the basis of claim formed considerable amount of time in the past. The rules of equity by the means of this defense, constitute an estoppel for the person by whose own fault delayed the filing of an action to the court – Natasa Christofidou v Dim. Papachrysostomou as an administrator of the estate of Theofili Papadopoulou (2009). It must be mentioned that this defense can be used only where the claim seeks to achieve an equitable remedy and cannot be invoked when the law itself prescribes specific time frames in which the claim can be brought in relation to the specific civil right which is sought ATIK v Kleanthous (2013). In majority of cases, this aspect is either covered by the specific legislation itself or the Limitation of Actionable Rights Law 2012.