It concerns the State that there be an end of lawsuits.
This maxim is well known, and constantly applied in practice. Within its meaning are the Statutes of Limitation and Set-off, the law of estoppels, etc.
The statutes for the limitation of actions form a principal feature in this maxim : for example, upon the principle of this maxim personal actions, as actions on the case, not slander, account, trespass, simple contract debt, detinue and replevin for goods or cattle, and trespass quare clausum fregit, must be brought within six years ; trespass for assault, battery, wounding, or imprisonment, within four years ; and case for words, within two years ; saving disabilities. And in real actions to recover land or rent, within twenty years after the right of action accrued, saving disabilities ; but limited to forty years notwithstanding disabilities. And as to advowsons, within one hundred years at the uttermost.
The rule as to limitation of actions at law holds good also in suits in equity, and courts of equity will, as nearly as can be, be guided in their decisions by the statutes limiting actions at law. Courts of equity will not, however, apply the Statutes of Limitation to cases of breaches of trust, nor where an account is sought from a trustee or agent, of monies entrusted to him. So no lapse of time will prevent a court of equity opening and looking into transactions and accounts between parties standing in the position of trustee and cestui que trust, where the transactions between them have not been closed owing to no fault of the cestui que trust. But it is otherwise where they have been closed and settled.
Where the defendant in a suit in Chancery had omitted to enrol the decree, and many years afterwards sought to enrol and to appeal ; there having been a subsequent decree in another suit by a judge of co-ordinate authority at variance with the decision so long acquiesced in ; it was considered too late to admit of the time for enrolment being extended for such purpose, the time for appealing having been allowed to expire by the defendant on the assumption, as was reasonable to presume, that there was no ground for appealing. So, also, where, on a transfer of shares in a company and retirement of some of the shareholders by arrangement of the directors, it was, after a lapse of twelve years, sought to make one of such retiring shareholders a contributor ; in such case it was held that the lapse of time was a bar, and that the arrangement so long acquiesced in could not be disturbed. In this case the M. E. referred to the maxim under consideration as being very important, and it was there applied by him to remedy an inconvenience caused by laches, and where the parties could not be put into the same position as formerly, though there was not any allegation of fraud. It has been held, also, in a case of gross fraud ; being that of a trustee who had bought a reversion from his cestui que trust at an inadequate value ; that seventeen years after the transaction and fourteen years after the death of the tenant for life, when the reversion fell in, the transaction could not be set aside solely on the ground of lapse of time. And, again, in a case between a solicitor and his client, the court considered that eighteen years was sufficient to prevent it from looking into the transaction. Though, in another case, a purchase from a client by a solicitor was successfully impeached, in a suit even against his executors, after a like period of eighteen years.