This article is an attempt to critically analyze rules relating to the concept of legal disability. This concept is enshrined in Section 6 of the statute of Limitation Act, 1963. This concept also extends to other sections within the same act like sections 7, 8 and 9 which play an important role in this concept. This concept can be described as some kind of cooling off period wherein individuals or their legal representatives of any form cannot file suits because of any legally induced disability- either insanity, idiocy or minor age. Once this disability is over, only then can parties file suits or their legal representatives can. This legal concept can be termed as some kind of eligibility criteria that allows/disallows parties from contesting their legal claims. This area of law can termed to be strictly time bound and allows concessions only when there is existence of some extra-ordinary circumstances that justifies any corresponding extension.
This article aims to analyze in depth the various components of this legal concept, its relationship with other sections and sub-sections in the Limitation act, the relation this concept shares with other laws like that of Indian Majority Act of 1875, the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 etc, important and relevant case laws that have shaped and re-shaped this concept over the years, the recommendations of the Law commission among others as well as what I personally conclude about this concept.
Types of Legal Disability:
There are three types of legal disabilities that have been described in section 6 (1) of the Limitation act, 1963. These include:
The first of these criterions for legal disability, “minor” has to do with a person’s age. Under Section 3 (1) of The Indian Majority Act of 1875 , a person becomes a major when he/she completes eighteen years. This computation of age is to be done after taking into account the following two provisos discussed in section 3 (2):
- The day on which the said individual is born is to be included as a whole day.
- He/she is thus said to have become a major as and when the eighteenth anniversary of that day commences.
The Majority Act of 1875 can be termed as a “secular “ law as it applies to all individuals professing any religion in India .If a particular personal law states otherwise, only then can the age of majority be considered as something else other than 18 years . The Majority Act though takes into account certain situations where in a concerned court or a court of wards took superintendence over the life and property of a minor and thus for his/her welfare appointed any guardian before such a person attained the age of 18, in such cases it is to be observed that the age of minority then extends till the age of 21 for the person in question . A child in the womb is also termed as a minor .
The second criterion for applying the bar of legal disability is that of insanity. This concept is explained in great detail in the case of S.K.Yadav V State of Maharashtra that was contested in the Supreme Court. In this case the court dealt with the concept of insanity in our legal system at great length. It stated that courts only recognized legal insanity and not medical insanity and that there were substantial differences between the two. Even if insanity has been previously proved medically or in a lower court of law, it has to be proved in the higher court. Furthermore, it is to be noticed that no such specific tests lie to prove legal insanity. Behaviors, antecedent, attendant and subsequent to the event, are to be taken into account while considering if a said person is to be termed insane or not.
In the case of Hari Singh Gond V State of Madhya Pradesh , it was said that there were four sub-types of non-compos mentis i.e., (1) an idiot; (2) one made non compos by illness (3) a lunatic or a mad man and (4.) one who is drunk. Idiocy included the following characteristics which included-(a) non-sane memory from birth by a perpetual infirmity, without lucid intervals (b) idiots are unable to count twenty (c) tell the days of the week, (d) who do not know their fathers or mothers, or the like. A lunatic suffers from bouts of such attacks in between what is termed as periods of sanity ie there are times when he can control his senses but there are occasions where he/she functions in an erratic manner, example-epilepsy. Madness is seen as permanent. Lunacy and madness are termed “acquired insanity” while idiocy is considered as “natural insanity” ie while a person can turn lunatic at any time in his lifetime, a person is an idiot since his/her birth.
Rules Pertaining to Legal Disability in Limitation Act:
A major part of rules pertaining to legal disability are enshrined in its parent act, which is that of Limitation Act, especially sections 6,7 and 9 that describe with a great deal of detail the different aspects of technical acumen. These sections ably support one another.
Section 3 of the Limitation Act is a very important section. It deals with the different time-periods that are to be allowed to parties to file cases, beyond which the concept of limitation debars parties from filing any suits. However, it is to be noticed that this section also provides for some exceptions- in cases of extraordinary situations that lie in sections 4-24 of the Limitation Act .
Minority, idiocacy and insanity are the different grounds under sections 6 and 7 of the act that allow parties to file suits after the time period when the disability is over. The disability has to compulsorily exist at the time from which period of limitation is supposed to begin. After such a time period has already begun, no subsequent disability can lead to resetting of this clock as per section 9 of the Limitation Act .
A per section 6 (2), if a person is suffering from multiple disabilities ie at least two or if such a person has got rid of one form of disability and is suffering from a new one, then in such situations he/she can only file a suit after these multiple disabilities or the newer disability has ceased to exist . Section 8 makes it amply clear that the concept or pre-emptive action does not exist in this case and that the time period for limitation is three years after the death of such a person or the ceasing of his disability .
Rules pertaining to Legal Disability in Civil Procedure Code, 1908:
There are some provisions pertaining to legal disability in Civil Procedure Code of 1908. Some of these sections are:
- Under order 8 rule 5(1) of the CPC, it has been said that if a specific charge has not been denied specifically or not admitted by a defendant then it would be admitted specifically except against those persons suffering from legal disabilities .
- Section 6 (3) of limitation act of 1963 empowers legal representatives to file a suit after the death of a person suffering from legal disability , this provision is supported by order 22 rule 3 (1) of the CPC that makes legal representatives of a deceased plaintiff party to a suit .
- Under rule 4A of order 22, the court can appoint an administer General or an officer of the court as it thinks fit to represent the estate of the deceased person, in case there are no legal representatives left .
- Under rule 1 (1) of order 23 of the CPC, a suit where the plaintiff is a minor or any other person to whom rules 1 to 14 of order 31 extend, then a suit can be withdrawn only after the court has been satisfied as explained in rule 3 of order 23 on the grounds of formal defect or existence of grounds to file a fresh suit. In the case of Joannala Sura Reddy V. Tiyyagura Srinivasa AIR 2004 AP 222 , it was said that no fresh suit can be filed if the previous suit has not been withdrawn after taking the court’s consent under rules1and 3 of order 23.
- Under rule 12 of Order 32 of CPC, which deals with suits filed by minors on them attaining majority, it was said in the case of Vidya Wati (deceased) through her L.Rs. V. Hans Raj (deceased) through his L.Rs., AIR 1993 Del 187 , that under the specific provision mentioned above no dismissal of the suit is needed in case minor has decided not to pursue the matter after attaining majority.
Relevant Case Laws Pertaining to Legal Disability:
While this list is not exhaustive, it aims to cover important cases across several high courts and Supreme Courts that can be termed to be very crucial in having developed practices associated with the mechanism of legal disability. These include:
1). Darshan Singh V Gurdev Singh – Section 6 allows the minor to extend the limitation to some more time and entitles the minor, insane or idiot to institute the suit or make the application within the same period prescribed in the third column of the Schedule to the Act after the said legal disability has come to an end. Special limitation explained in Section 8 of the act has explained that extended period after cessation of the disability will not cover beyond three years of the death of such legally disabled person or cessation of his said legal disability.
In each case, the plaintiff is considered to be empowered by section 8 to a fresh starting period of limitation from the date of cessation of disability, which is consequently subject to the condition that the period of such extension under Section 6 or 7. The plaintiff can thus file a suit within this time period before limitation debars it.
2). Udhavji Anandji Ladha and Ors. Vs Bapudas Ramdas Darbar – Section 6 does not cover in any way any “intervening” kind of legal disability. When a legal disability is in existence, only then can section 6 be successfully applied. But if a person cannot be termed to be suffering from any kind of legal disability when such a limitation time-line begins, he cannot in any way avail the relaxation of standards offered by section 6.
While reading Section 3, the period of limitation for suits has to be considered by reading Schedule 1 with Sections 4 to 25of the Limitation Act; and, therefore prescribed for a suit by a minor cannot be the period mentioned in Schedule 1, but a special period that is described in Section 6 of the Act. Therefore, in the case of a minor it cannot be said that the period for filing suits under section 6 has expired without taking into account the provisos involved. This ensures that the right of minors to contest suits is not taken away, without offering them any reasonable time period to do so accordingly.
3). Lalchand Dhanalal vs Dharamchand and Ors. – This case stated that cause of action or grievance must take place when the plaintiff (in this particular case the administratrix) dies and the period of limitation is thus initiated with no subsequent disability leading to reset of that clock as per section 9 of the Limitation Act. A plaintiff can only rightfully claim benefit only if such a right existed due to a legal disability as and when the period of limitation began. Any subsequent disability on his part will not stop the running of limitation. Consequently, he will be governed by the same period of limitation as the earlier limited owner, but such a disability can come into his defence if his claims are independent of the earlier claimant’s plea.
4). Bapu Tatya Desai vs Bala Raojee Desai – This case stated the purpose of section 7 of the Limitation act is to regulate the supposed indulgence that is available to minors to ensure that the benefit of section 6 of the Limitation act does not extend to a correspondingly long period of time but only till the eldest of the lot does not end up as a major.
5). Smt. Usha Rani Banerjee & Ors. Vs. Premier Insurance Company Ltd, Madras & Ors. AIR 1983 Allahabad 27- Section 7 had to be taken as an exception to the general principle enunciated by Section 6 and held that if there are multiple individuals that were jointly entitled to institute a suit and if one of them was disabled, time would not run against any of them until the disability ceased to exist. But if one of the persons entitled to institute the suit was competent to give discharge without the concurrence of the other, then time would begin to run against both of them.
6). T. Kunhammad and Ors. Vs M. Narayanan Nambudiri’s Son – If under some substantive law, a particular law entitles that a legally able person can represent an entire group, he/she can be termed to be powerful enough to discharge that right without any consultation with the other members of that group. Section 7 would not operate in the case of all the joint creditors under disability were well covered by Section 6 of the Act. It is not considered important whether a valid discharge is given by the person competent to give the same. The only question is whether he could give it under the ambit of section 7 of the Limitation Act. A valid discharge of the suit under section 7 can take place by a major with/without the concurrence of the minors.
Recommendations made by Law Commission:
The Law Commission of India in its eight-ninth report in 1963, focused on the Limitation act and thus came up with the following pieces of recommendations which included the following parts specifically on legal disability:
- The Limitation act dealt with the concept of legal disability amply within sections 6-8 of the act, with section 9 acting as a proviso of sorts.
- The commission came up with the idea of not having any pre-emptive concept of legal disability in this act as they felt that firstly pre-emption as a concept worked on a very small time frame and the legislature at multiple junctions felt that there was no severe need to bring this in. There were several special provisions for extending the time period, hence no such further addition was supposed to be necessary .
- The commission also felt that the grammatical aspects of some sections could be improved. It was suggested that section 7 should be re-drafted to do away with the expression of “time will not run” in order to do away with any ensuing confusion .
- Thus, it can be reasonably concluded that the Law Commission of India has on occasions felt that laws pertaining to legal disability have been drafted well enough to suggest only one change.
Thus, after analysing the various aspects of the mechanism of legal disability-its definitions, its components, its developmental history, the various important case-laws etc, I conclude that this mechanism in the Limitation act has far reaching ramifications that can systematically extend over a long period of time.
This law is primarily meant for usage by legally discredited individuals and their legal representatives to rightfully claim within a reasonable time period what is rightfully theirs. Since, such individuals are not legally entitled to file suits for such purposes; there can be occasions where they are wrongfully deprived of their claims and dues. It is meant to ensure that legal insanity or minority does not in any way deprive such persons of their legal rights. However, this defensive mechanism could also be potentially misused and thus several caveat provisions like that of the three year period have been introduced to keep a fair check on both the sides involved in a dispute.
This concept has been shaped importantly by various case laws decided by different high courts as well as the Supreme Court. The Law commission on the contrary, has felt that the law is reasonably clear; it is amply evident from the fact that in their previous reports they have suggested just one change that of in section 7. However, on a personal level, I feel that this very law is very much accurate and is ably supported by the judicial machinery to ensure negligible misuse of its provisions.
3rd Year, WBNUJS