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Limitation and Prescription

A Comparative Legal History

Editors: Dondorp, Harry | Ibbetson, David | Schrage, Eltjo J. H.

Comparative Studies in Continental and Anglo-American Legal History, Vol. 33


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About The Author

Harry Dondorp has been teaching Roman Law and Legal History at the Free University Amsterdam since 1979. He published notably on the history of Canon Law and in the field of the Comparative Legal History. David Ibbetson has been Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Cambridge since 2000, and President of Clare Hall, Cambridge since 2013. From 2009 until 2012 he served as the Chair of the Faculty of Law, Cambridge. Eltjo Schrage retired as a Professor of Civil Law at the University of Amsterdam in 2010. He has been an honorary professor in the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa since 2007.


Within both the Civil Law and the Common Law we find means of acquiring and losing rights, or freeing ourselves from obligations by the passage of time. The ratio thereof is twofold: (1) In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. »Sometimes it is said that, if a man neglects to enforce his rights, he cannot complain if, after a while, the law follows his example« and (2) A claim should not hang above the head of the debtor as if it were a Damocles’ sword, or on the words of Best CJ »long dormant claims have more cruelty than justice in them.« This ratio is and has been felt strongly in every jurisdiction, but legislation, case law and jurisprudence but the specifications thereof show substantial dissimilarities, notably between the Common Law and the Civil Law, even thus that in recent times several Law Commissions reported about future modifications and other jurisdictions enacted new legislation. This book gives the necessary historical background on a comparative basis.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Preface VII
Table of Contents IX
Harry Dondorp / Eltjo Schrage / David Ibbetson: Introduction 1
I. Lapse of Time 1
II. Status Quaestionis 3
III. A Terminological Remark 10
IV. The Relation between Limitation and the Acquisition of Ownership 14
V. Usucapio and παραγραφή: the Origin of the Concept of Praescriptio 21
VI. Early Continental Developments 25
VII. Canon-Law Influence 29
VIII. Common Law 33
IX. Balancing the Interests of Claimants and Defendants 36
Harry Dondorp: Limitation and Prescription in Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis 43
I. Introduction 43
1. A Terminological Remark 45
2. The Sedes Materiae 46
II. Acquisitive Prescription 47
1. Usucapio: Prescription of Movables 49
2. Longi Temporis Praescriptio: Prescription of Land 51
3. The Origin of the Longi Temporis Praescriptio 54
4. Prescription of Unencumbered Ownership: Usucapio Libertatis 55
5. Prescription of Servitudes in Analogy 59
6. Triginta Annorum Praescriptio: Prescription of Almost Everything 61
III. Excursion: Praescriptio Immemorialis 62
IV. Limitation of Claims 62
1. The Origin of the General Limitation of Actions 64
V. Interruption and Suspension 65
Emanuele Conte: Lapse of Time in Medieval Laws: Procedure, Prescription, Presumptions, Custom 69
I. Introduction 69
II. Uncertainty of the Law and of the Rights between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 70
III. The Discovery of a ‘Learned’ Possession and the Limits of Prescription in the Twelfth Century 73
IV. The Crucial Point of the Doctrine during the Age of the Glossators: Prescription of Services 76
V. Prescription and Presumption. The Theory of Azo in Practice: Roffredus and Iacobus Balduini 79
VI. The Force of Tradition and the Logic of Canon Law: Consuetudo Praescripta 82
VII. Quasi Possessio and the Broadening of the Range of Easements (Servitutes) 86
Harry Dondorp: Prescription and Limitation in Medieval Canon Law 91
I. Introduction 91
II. The Sedes Materiae 92
III. A Terminological Remark 94
IV. Gratian’s Decretum 95
V. Early Canon-Law Introductions to Praescriptio 97
VI. The Requirement of Continuous Good Faith 102
VII. Intermezzo: Jurisdiction Ex Defectu Justitiae 105
VIII. The Requirement of a Proper Cause 106
IX. Praescriptio Temporis Immemorialis 113
X. Limitation and Prescription of Church-Rights in less than Forty Years 113
XI. Suspension of Prescription and Limitation 117
XII. Limitation of Actions for Debts 120
Paul Brand: Limitation and Prescription in the Early English Common Law (to c. 1307) 125
I. Limitation Dates in the Writs of the Early Common Law 125
II. Prescription Periods in the Early Common Law, Short and Long 134
III. Conclusions 143
Sir John Baker: Prescriptive Customs in English Law 1300–1800 147
I. Prescription, Custom and Usage 147
II. Principles Governing the Validity of Customs 157
1. Immemorial Usage 158
2. Reasonableness 165
3. Certainty 176
4. Rights over Land 180
5. Manorial Customs 183
Neil Jones: Lapse of Time in Equity 1560–1660 189
I. Introductory 189
II. Cases Referring to Statutes of Limitation 190
1. The Statute of 1540 191
2. The Statute of 1624 194
III. Cases Concerning Lapse of Time without Reference to Statute 199
1. Interim Effects 199
2. Decisory Effects 201
IV. Acquisitive Prescription 205
V. Conclusion 210
David Ibbetson: Limitation and Prescription in Early-Modern England 213
I. The Late Medieval Background 213
1. Limitations 214
2. Fines 215
3. Incorporeal Rights 215
II. The Tudor Statutes 216
1. The Statute of Fine 1489 216
2. The Statute of Limitation of Prescriptions 1540 218
3. Other Sixteenth Century Limitations 221
III. The Statute of James: The Limitation Act 1624 222
IV. Conclusion 228
Jan Hallebeek: Early Modern Scholasticism on Acquisitive and Extinctive Prescription 229
I. Introduction 229
II. The Early Modern Scholastic Approach to Prescription 231
III. Purpose and Justification of Prescription 234
1. Existing Opinions 234
2. Adrian of Utrecht 236
3. Juan de Medina and Alfonso de Castro 236
4. Domingo de Soto 238
5. Later Scholars on Punishment of Negligence as Justification 239
6. The Teachings of Molina 241
7. A Prevailing View: Common Interest as Justification 241
IV. Does Prescription Require Good Faith? 243
1. Roman Law and Canon Law 244
2. Secular Legislation 245
3. Existing Opinions 246
4. What is Bad Faith? 247
5. Did the Pope Alter the Law? 249
6. Extinctive Prescription of Rights 250
V. Can Rights Be Lost and Acquired through Prescription in the Forum of the Conscience? 251
1. Existing Opinions 252
2. The Common Interest Justifies Prescription in Conscience 254
3. The Popes Approved of Prescription for the Forum of the Conscience 255
4. Rejecting the Counter-Arguments 256
5. The Statute of Charles V in the Forum of the Conscience 258
VI. Epilogue 258
Andrew R. C. Simpson: Legal Learning and the Prescription of Rights in Scotland 263
I. Introduction 263
II. The 1469 Act in Context 266
III. In Regno Scotie non Currit Praescriptio: Nisi in Obligationibus 270
IV. Prescription: A Just and Equitable Doctrine? 276
V. Praescriptione Omnia Iura Tollantur 282
VI. Prescription in Stair’s Institutions 290
VII. Conclusion 294
Martin Schermaier: Contemporary Use of Roman Rules: Prescription and Limitation in the Usus Modernus Pandectarum 297
I. “Modern Use of Roman Law” 297
II. The Basis: Late Medieval Mos Italicus 299
1. Forms of Praescriptio 300
2. Justifications 302
3. Requirements 303
4. Effects 306
5. Lapse of Time in Other Circumstances 308
a) Vetustas and Praescriptio Immemorialis 308
b) Acquisition of ‘Rights’ in Rights 309
c) Praescriptio and Costumary Law 310
III. Usus Modernus Pandectarum: the Law in the Books 311
1. Forms of Prescription 312
2. Justifications and Definitions 314
3. Requirements 316
a) Bona Fides 316
b) Res Habilis 320
c) Titulus 320
d) Possessio 321
e) Tempus 322
f) Divergent Local Laws 326
g) Modifications by Law or Contract 327
4. Effects 328
IV. Lapse of Time in Other Circumstances: a look to the Practice 328
1. Praescriptio Immemorialis 328
2. The Acquisition of “Rights” in Rights and the Res Merae Facultatis 331
3. Prescription and Customary Law 334
V. Conclusion 335
Mike Macnair: Length of Time and Related Equitable Bars 1660–1760 337
I. Introductory 337
II. Prescription 339
III. Limitation 343
1. Applying the Statute 343
2. Equitable Relief Against the Statute 348
IV. Laches 351
V. Acquiescence 355
VI. Length of Time 358
VII. Conclusion 362
David Deroussin: Praescriptione Omnia Iura Tolluntur: Les Prescriptions dans l’Ancien Droit français 363
I. Introduction 363
II. Le Moyen Âge: la pénétration du droit romain 365
III. L’Ancien Droit des prescriptions (1): droit romain, fondement et conception 374
1. La part du droit romain dans une matière coutumière 374
2. Fondement et unité (?) de la notion 378
IV. L’Ancien Droit des prescriptions (2): le tempus, condition commune à toutes les prescriptions 389
1. Le tempus dans les prescriptions libératoires 389
2. Le tempus dans les prescriptions acquisitives 391
a) Les délais romains 391
b) Les autres délais (1): délais liés à la qualité de la chose 393
c) Les autres délais (2): choses imprescriptibles 395
d) Les autres délais (3): la prescription immémoriale 400
e) Les autres délais (4): délais liés à des particularités locales 401
f) La computation du tempus: la jonction des possessions 402
g) Les causes d’interruption / suspension 403
h) Interruption 404
i) Contre qui court la prescription ? La suspension du tempus 408
V. L’Ancien Droit des prescriptions (3): Les conditions propres à la prescription acquisitive 410
1. Le juste titre 410
2. La bonne foi 412
3. La possession 415
a) Définitions et domaine / objet 415
b) Caractères 417
Joshua Getzler: Lord Tenterden’s 1832 Prescription Act: Why Was it Passed, and Was it a Failure? 421
I. A Statute Without Friends 421
II. The Law Before 1832 428
III. John Campbell Q.C. and the Real Property Commissioners 434
IV. Prescription, Tithes of the Clergy, and the Great Reform Bill 1830–1832 438
V. Breakdown and Recovery – the 1831 Riots and their Aftermath 450
VI. Church Bills for Composition and Commutation of Tithes 456
David Deroussin: Le Droit Français des Prescriptions depuis 1804, ou l’impossible simplicité 459
I. Une nouvelle ère en matière de prescription ? 459
II. Le Code civil 463
1. Du projet élaboré par la Commission de l’an VIII au Code civil 463
2. Les principes directeurs du Code civil 468
a) La prescription est nécessaire et légitime 469
b) La fragile unité de la prescription 470
c) Le Code civil, une oeuvre de simple transaction ? 471
III. L’interprétation du Code civil 472
1. Où rien n’est jamais acquis… 473
a) Le fondement de la prescription 473
b) L’étranger et le mort civil 475
c) La prescription et l’obligation naturelle 475
d) Unité ? 477
e) Nature de la prescription 480
2. Où l’interprétation recouvre ses droits: les conditions de la prescription 484
a) Les prescriptions libératoires 485
b) La prescription acquisitive 490
IV. Bilan 502
Christian Hattenhauer: Prescription and Limitation in Germany and Austria from the Late 18th Century to the 2002 Reform of the German Law of Limitation and Obligations 507
I. Political and Legal Background 507
II. The Overcoming of the Ius Commune Unified Concept of Praescriptio in the German Pandectist School of Law 510
1. Acquisitive and Extinctive Prescription as Manifestations of the Unified Institution of Praescriptio 510
2. The Impact of the Unified Concept of Praescriptio on the Codifications Influenced by the Law of Reason 516
3. Friedrich Carl von Savigny and his Overcoming of the Unified Concept of Praescriptio 518
4. The Separation of Prescription and Limitation in the Legislation 521
III. The Development of Prescription 523
1. The Ius Commune Doctrine of Acquisitive Prescription and its Legislative Implementation 523
2. Acquisitive Prescription of Movable Property and Instantaneous Bona Fide Acquisition 527
3. Acquisitive Prescription of Immovable Property and the Land Register System 530
4. Acquisitive Prescription of Movable and Immovable Property in the Era of National Socialism and in the Law of the German Democratic Republic 535
IV. The Development of Limitation 539
1. The Purpose of Limitation 539
a) The Development in the 19th Century and the Modern-Day View 539
b) The Purpose of Limitation in the Era of National Socialism and in the German Democratic Republic 542
2. The Turn Away from the Requirement of Bona Fides 545
3. The Object of Limitation 550
a) Action, Right, Claim 550
b) The Subjection to Limitation of Real Claims, Especially of the Claim for Ownership 554
c) The Limitation of the Claim for Vindication in the Case of Looted Art 558
4. The Impact of Limitation 562
a) The Impact of Limitation under the Codifications Influenced by the Law of Reason 563
b) The Debate on the Impact of Limitation in Ius Commune Academia 566
c) The Effects of Extinctive Prescription in the Legislation and Draft Legislation up to the 1866 Dresden Draft 569
d) The Effects of Extinctive Prescription in the BGB Consultations 570
e) The “Weak-weaker” Model of Limitation in Today’s German Law 576
5. Periods, Commencement, Suspension and Interruption (Resumption) of Limitation up to the 1900 German BGB 578
a) Limitation Periods 579
b) Commencement of Limitation 583
c) Suspension and Interruption of Limitation Periods 585
aa) The Grounds for Suspension of Limitation 585
bb) The Grounds for Interruption of Limitation 588
6. The Development of the German Law of Limitation under the 1900 BGB 590
a) The 1900 Law of Limitation’s Lack of Probation 590
b) In Particular: The “Limitation-Jungle” of §§ 195, 477, 638, 852 BGB 1900 593
7. The 1992 Commission’s Proposals to Reform the Law of Obligations 596
8. The Reform of the German Law of Limitation by the 2002 Law of Obligations Modernisation Act 598
a) The Legislative Procedure: Time Pressure instead of Thoroughness 598
b) Characteristics of the New German Law of Limitation 601
aa) Retention of Limitation of the Claim 601
bb) Primarily “Subjectively” Based Shortened Standard Limitation 604
cc) “Objectively” Based Special Cases of Limitation 606
V. Verwirkung 608
1. Verwirkung in German Law (§ 242 BGB) 608
2. The Rejection of the General Institution of Verwirkung in Austrian Law 614
VI. Summary 615
Bibliography 619
Pascal Pichonnaz: Limitation in Switzerland: a Comparative Account 633
I. The Historical Background of the Swiss Codification of Limitation 633
II. The Divide between Limitation and Acquisitive Prescription 635
1. Prescription and Limitation in 1853 Zurich Civil Code 635
2. Limitation in the 1881 Federal Code of Obligations 636
3. Prescription in the 1907 Civil Code 637
III. The Rethinking of the Rationale of Extinctive Prescription 639
IV. The Distinction between Limitation and Verwirkung 643
V. The Basic Regime of Limitation under Swiss Law 645
1. The Limitation Period 645
2. The Beginning of the Limitation Period 646
3. Interruption 649
4. Suspension 650
VI. Some Aspects of Acquisitive Prescription 652
VII. The Evolution of Limitation in Switzerland 654
Mike Macnair: English Limitation Reforms and Controversies 659
I. Introduction 659
II. The 1939 Act 662
III. Land Claims 665
1. Limitation 665
2. Acquisition by Prescription of Easements and Profits 670
IV. Tort Claims 671
1. Fault Liability and ‘Latent Damage’ 671
2. Defamation 676
V. Conclusion 679