What are the statute of limitations in NSW? Generally, a statute of limitations means a statute prescribing a period of limitation for the bringing of certain kinds of legal action. The law takes into consideration the time between the commission of a crime and when the charge is filed.
The law provides time limits as to when a charge can be made following the commission of an offence. The statute of limitations varies depending on the offences committed. This article discusses the statute of limitations NSW.
What is the Statute of Limitations in NSW?
One must note that in Australia, the statute of limitations varies in the different States and Territories. In NSW, the statute of limitations can apply in the following:
- Criminal proceedings
- Civil proceedings
- Traffic offences
Certain traffic violations are handled by a penalty notice fine rather than a court attendance notice. Here are some examples of penalty notice offences:
- Drug possession
- Red light offences
- Speeding fines
- Negligent driving charges
- Usage of phones while driving
Statute of Limitations NSW: Criminal Proceedings
Generally, limitation statutes don’t apply to criminal proceedings. The statutory period varies depending on the offence and jurisdiction. Generally, a limitation period applies to minor or summary offences.
But a statute of limitation doesn’t apply to other commonwealth offences. As an example, there is no limitation period to commence an action in relation to murder. Furthermore, there are cases where the applicant doesn’t feel comfortable or is prevented from commencing legal proceedings within a year from when the incident occurred.
For example, victims of strictly indictable offences (more serious offences are called indictable offences) such as sexual abuse or sexual assault sometimes don’t take legal action for an extended period of time following the incident.
Section 179(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) provides that the statute of limitations in NSW is 6-months for summary offences. Hence, if six months passed since the alleged offence occurred, the aggrieved party can no longer file a case.
Examples of summary offences include:
- Offensive Language, or an act when a person uses foul or offensive language.
- Offensive Conduct, such as when a person behaves in an offensive manner in a public place or school. This may involve public nudity, sex, or fighting.
- Obstructing Traffic, such as when a person willfully prevents, in any manner, the free passage of a person, vehicle or vessel in a public place.
- Dangerous Behaviour, such as custody of a knife in a public place or school.
- Illegal Possession of Liquor, or an act where a person possesses or consumes liquor in a public place while they are minors or children under 18 years of age.
- Hunting, or when a person enters into private land and hunts for any animal in the land without the land owner’s consent.
Hence, an offended party can no longer file a charge after 6 months based on these offences.
Exceptions in Summary Offences’ Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for summary offences does not apply to indictable offences and indictable offence proceedings, which are more serious offences dealt with in higher courts. The 6-month statute of limitations also does not apply to:
- Indictable offences that is being heard summarily in the Local Court, or
- Any offence involving the death of a person or that is or has been subject to a coronial inquest.
In relation to summary offences involving the death of a person that is or has been the subject of a coronial inquest, the following time limits apply:
- 6-months from the conclusion of the inquest, or
- 2-years from the date of the alleged offence.
For firearms offences being heard in the Local Court, Section 85 of the Firearms Act 1996 (NSW) provides for a 2-year time limit from the commission of the offence.
Statute of Limitations NSW: Civil Proceedings
The Limitation Act 1969 (NSW) provides the statute of limitations for civil proceedings in NSW. Under Section 14 of the Limitation Act 1969, the time period to commence proceedings for the following is 6 years from the date on which the cause of action accrues:
- a cause of action founded on contract (including quasi contract) not being a cause of action founded on a deed,
- a cause of action founded on tort, including a cause of action for damages for breach of statutory duty,
- a cause of action to enforce a recognizance [or bond; a promise entered into and recorded before a court],
- a cause of action to recover money recoverable by virtue of an enactment, other than a penalty or forfeiture or sum by way of penalty or forfeiture.
For deeds, a time period of 12-20 years generally applies. However, the applicable time period does not render the contract ineffective; it merely terminates the right to commence action on legal proceedings.
Statute of Limitations NSW: Traffic Cases
Section 37A of the Fines Act 1996 (NSW) provides that fines for traffic offences have a statute of limitations of 12 months. This means that a fine must be issued within 12 months following the incident. Examples of traffic offences include:
- red light offences,
- speeding fines, and
- negligent driving charges.
The Rationale for the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations prevents individuals from pursuing claims after a substantial period of time has passed since the cause of action occurred.
The purpose of the statute of limitations is to prevent detrimental effects on the administration of legal and court proceedings. Not having a time limit on bringing claims can cause further delay in legal proceedings and ultimately, Courts get clogged with cases.
Furthermore, a delay in the legal proceedings can cause a negative impact on evidentiary matters, such as the availability of witnesses, availability of documents, and accuracy of detail that is the subject of the evidence.
Therefore, to balance the interests of all parties and produce an effective administration of justice, the law imposes limitation periods to bring a claim to court.
Seeking Legal Advice
Perhaps you want to bring a claim to Court regarding an event that has occurred in the past, but you are unsure if you may still be able to do so or if you have reached the time limit under the statute of limitations in NSW. We highly advise you to seek legal services regarding criminal or traffic charges.
JB Solicitors has a leading team of expert family lawyers that can help with your case. We can offer you legal advice on raising a claim in Court and how to begin legal proceedings. We can also provide legal representation for your criminal law case.
Do you have any more queries on the statute of limitations in NSW? Contact us today.