Delay Defeats Equity


This maxim is also expressed in the other form as “Equity aids the vigilant and not the dormant”

The Court of Equity discourages unreasonable delay in bringing a suit to it. Because it would be unjust to assert a claim after an unreasonable delay.

The court of equity does not give relief when the party seeking relief has delayed for a long time without attempting to enforce his rights.

Lord Camden in Smith v. Clay has said that “A court of Equity has always refused its aid to state demand where a party has slept upon his rights and acquiesced for a great length of time”.

So, delay is fatal to the claim that we are seeking from the court of equity. The 3 conditions for delay to be fatal to the claim are as under: –

  1. When delay has resulted in destruction or loss of evidence.
  2. When delay is evidence of agreement to abandon a right.
  3. When the plaintiff has delayed so as to induce defendant to alter his position on a reasonable faith that he has released or abandoned his claim.


To the cases governed by the statutes of limitation (in England) either expressly or by analogy, this maxim won’t apply.

Such cases fall into 3 categories as noted by Snell: –

  1. Firstly, those equitable claims to which the statute of limitation applies expressly.
  2. Secondly, to which the statute applies by analogy.
  3. In the third instance there are equitable claims to which the statute does not apply and hence they are covered by ordinary rules of laches or Hanbury puts the idea in this way. In cases of purely equitable claims, equity courts have a discretion either to grant or to refuse the equitable relief, unless the equitable claim is expressly covered by a statute.

Doctrine of Laches

Plaintiff’s unreasonable delay is a weapon of defense by the defendant against the plaintiff. Where a long time has elapsed, even beyond the statutes of limitation, and plaintiff has not insisted upon his rights and therefore neither statute applies nor can the analogy be invoked one has to look to the delay and the surrounding circumstances which provide an explanation for the delay and a basis of interference for the court. If the interference that can be reasonably drawn is that the plaintiff agreed to abandon or release his rights or acted in a manner as to induce other parties to alter their position on the reasonable faith that he has done so, the matter is over, because, the plaintiff’s claim will be treated as abandoned.

Cases: –

Chatrabhuj v. MAnsukhram, AIR 1925 Bom 183

In this case, the plaintiff allowed his land to be occupied by the defendant and this was acquiesced (to rest without opposition or discontent) by him even beyond period of limitation to recover possession of the land it was decided that as the period of limitation to recover possession has expired no relief could be granted.

Aishwarya Says:

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