Time is one of the most crucial factors in the dispensation of justice. The law imposes strict time limits within which the case must be commenced in the court. Such time limit is termed as limitation period. The term is derived from the Latin word limitatio. It applies in both civil and criminal cases. Limitation period is different according to the cases. Limitation period is one of the unavoidable factors of the judiciary system. The principle of limitation is based on the belief that justice delayed is justice denied and the court cannot help those who are not aware of their rights. “Vigilantibus non dormientibus Jura subveniunt” means the law will assist only those who are vigilant with their rights and not those who sleep upon.
It may apparently be felt that the victims are denied justice by a statute of limitation. Yet there are several common sense reasons by which this statute exists. The statute of limitation keeps in consideration that if someone gets hurt, the voice should be immediately raised and also the state should not impose the threat of certain crime throughout the life.
The statute of limitation is introduced in legal system for the fair justice. It is intended to provide justice quickly and within a reasonable time from which the incident occurred.
Thus, the statute of limitation is to protect people from false claims and poor record-keeping. The longer the delay, there are more chances of weakening of the testimonies. The disappearance of material evidence dilutes a fair trial which may unfairly hinder either prosecution or the defense and lead to an unjust verdict. Thus the ultimate goal of the statute of limitation is to add both fairness and decisiveness to litigation and to prevent parties continually arguing over events long ago and that cannot be traced back accurately.
The length of time prescribed by statute of limitation varies widely according to the cases. In some cases, the limitation is flexible and in some cases there is no such time boundary. General statutes limiting the period within which prosecution for crimes must be begun are common in civil-law countries and in the United States. In certain states of the US, rape cases have no time limit for filing the case where as in certain states there exists limitation. The limitation of timeframe in such states varies from 3-30 years.
In England, there are no general statutes of limitations applicable to criminal actions, although statutes defining certain actions as criminal frequently have included limits for their prosecution. In India, the limitation period differs in accordance with the punishment related to the crimes. Nepal has no separate law regarding the statute of limitation. It has been mentioned under the National Code, 2017. In some cases, the limitation is flexible and in certain cases there is no such time boundary. Under the same Code, complaints of rape must be filed within one year from the date of the crime.
The scary experience of sexually assaulted lady which has been made public through social media has recently kept the limitation period under the question mark.
The crime occurred some eight years ago when she was at the age of 16. The feminists and the civil society members are exerting all their pressure against time limitation. They claim that the statutory limit is often an excuse by police for not filing cases of rape. The same statute of limitation which is aimed for justice has become the barrier. In the name of statute of limitation, can one extinguish the right of the victim? Is not that the serious offense? Should not be the culprit punished? To speak against the rape is the matter of great courage. Such courageous survivors should not be denied justice because of limitation of time.
Points to be considered
Rape victims go through the pain, anxiety, trauma, self-doubt, threat and even depression. It may take longer time to become physically, mentally and psychologically prepared to speak about the offense. So, the statute limitations should be made flexible to help ensure justice to the victims. The loophole in section 229 (2) of the Criminal Code, 2017 should be corrected.
So far in Nepal, the limitation is not only the sole factor to create barrier to justice. Our social structure is also highly responsible to it. Society should be restructured in such a way that the rape victims can immediately speak up and file cases against the perpetrators. Thus, only removing the time limit is not the sustainable solution. No doubt, in country like Nepal, the statute of limitation in rape case is poor, but just lifting or removing the limitation may lead to the new sets of even more serious problems. So, there should be optimum balance between the victim’s fair chance for justice and adequate opportunity for the defendant to defend himself/herself.
(Subedi is a Section Officer at Tulsipur High Court.)