The Doctrine of Laches is based on the maxim that “equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights”.


5/23/20222 min read


The defence of laches is an equitable defence that seeks to prevent a party from ambushing someone else by failing to make a legal claim in a timely manner. The doctrine of laches is based on the maxim that “equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights”.The outcome is that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party. Elements of laches as posited by Osborn C.J in A.G v John Holt & Co. Ltd & Ors (1910) 2 NLR 1 at 39 include knowledge of a claim, unreasonable delay, neglect, which taken together hurt the defendant.

It has been established that the defence of laches is a form of limitation. Against the common law and equity, customary law, in the notorious principle of West African Native Law laid that by strict native law, there is no period of limitation of suits. Specifically to land cases, the court in Sunmonu v Disu Raphael (1927) A.C. 881 decided that the statutes of limitation were inapplicable under customary law.

The uniqueness of the customary law does not basically accommodate the recognition of laches. An instance is the land issued based on pledge which has no similar principle under the common law. Once it is a pledge is always a pledge. A pledger can redeem his land regardless of the length of time. A litigant who however sleeps on his right may be met with the doubt that he has a well-founded claim. Though, there might be difficulty in adducing evidence in support of his claim especially with the passage of time, in which memories grow dim and witnesses die, that does not invoke the doctrine of laches.

However, beyond the trite case in which it was decided that customary law knows no limitation per se, doctrine of laches does not apply to cases governed by statute of limitation. If statute of limitation states the time lapse, it is that time that applies and not the doctrine of laches and acquiescence. Therefore, where the statute of limitation applied, then, no delay short of the limitation period in the statute will bar the claim. Statute rises above any non-recognition of limitation by the customary law.

It is unjust to allow a plaintiff who has unduly slept on his rights to insist on his legal rights after placing the other party in a position in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterward to be asserted. The principle under equity and common law allows conversion in some way unlike customary law where the doctrine of laches is not allowed except with the import of the statutory limitation. It can be believed that once a person acquires ownership of a particular entity. It is reasonably expected that the whole world steps back from the property of such individual, however, intruders come in.

With time, intruders become owners based on the doctrine of laches. However, the non-recognition of Laches under customary law redefines the doctrine of fairness, especially in possession via pledge, family land and communal land, save the effect of statutory limitation in suit of land cases. Penning personal opinion, the doctrine of the defence of laches gives room from a place of fraudulence in the operation of our laws and customary law as a branch of law does not recognise it.

NB: This article is not a legal advice, and under no circumstance should you take it as such. All information provided are for general purpose only. For information, please contact



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