IN MOST JURISDICTIONS, common law and civil law, the law stipulates the period within which a legal claim may be made or legal proceedings may be taken. If the period expires, the claim is said to be time-barred, and either the court no longer has jurisdiction to hear the claim or the defendant can raise the limitation period as a defence to the claim or proceeding. This article considers the effect of limitation periods in common law jurisdictions and in China, and illustrates the concepts by reference to an action to recover a debt.


In common law jurisdictions, civil actions are subject to limitation periods. These are the product of statute rather than case law. In a case decided in 2006 – Haward v Fawcetts – Lord Nicholls of Britain’s House of Lords noted as follows (Citation 1):

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葛安德 Andrew Godwin
Andrew Godwin

A former partner of Linklaters Shanghai, Andrew Godwin teaches law at Melbourne Law School in Australia, where he is an associate director of its Asian Law Centre. Andrew’s new book is a compilation of China Business Law Journal’s popular Lexicon series, entitled China Lexicon: Defining and translating legal terms. The book is published by Vantage Asia and available at