Q&As

Can the doctrine of laches form the basis of a cause of action, or will it always act as a defence only?

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Produced in partnership with Oliver Hilton of Radcliffe Chambers
Published on LexisPSL on 05/11/2019

The following Dispute Resolution Q&A produced in partnership with Oliver Hilton of Radcliffe Chambers provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Can the doctrine of laches form the basis of a cause of action, or will it always act as a defence only?

Can the doctrine of laches form the basis of a cause of action, or will it always act as a defence only?

Laches is an equitable doctrine, and as a general rule acts as an equitable bar to equitable claims. In other words, it acts as a limitation of actions in equity where the Limitation Act 1980 (LA 1980) does not otherwise apply. This gives rise to three general points of principle.

The first point is that the doctrine is applicable only in respect of claims to enforce equitable rights, on the basis that ‘he who comes to equity must do so without delay’—ie a claimant in equity is bound to prosecute their claim without delay. Thus a court of equity has always refused its aid to stale demands. The doctrine is applicable therefore only in respect of a limited range of claims, such as for breach of trust or fiduciary duty, to enforce equitable rights, such as for rectification, recession or estoppels or for remedies such as specific performance and injunctions.

The second point, however, is that mere delay is not sufficient. What the defendant will need to establish by evidence is either that the claimant has waived or abandoned their right or that: (i) the claimant knew that their rights had been infringed and therefore knew of the existence of the claim but not to

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