A time-bar (or a statute of limitations as known under common law jurisdictions) is a statutory time limit for the enforcement of a civil claim through legal proceedings. As such a time-bar normally does not eliminate the claim, but it offers the other party an effective defence against its enforcement, thus it is a procedural barrier that can be invoked by the opponent. Hence before deciding to commence a claim, it is paramount to determine the applicable time-bar in relation to the claim at hand. A time-bar is always set by the legislator in a codified law by way of defining a certain time limit from the moment of the existence of a particular claim. Therefore not only the duration of such a time limit has to be ascertained, but also the moment of its existence – its starting point – requires identification in a certain case. Different claims rise under different conditions. Some claims require a subjective element – such as for example awareness of an act leading to a particular claim. Often the difficulties in determining the correct time-bar lay here and may require proof and evidence.
Under UAE civil law – like in other civil law systems – not all time-bars are mentioned and dealt with in one particular statue. Most time-bars can be found in the UAE Civil Code. Article 473 Civil Code contains the standard time-bar: Generally speaking any civil claim is time-barred after the elapse of 15 years from the moment of its existence, unless specific provision of law relating to the matter states otherwise. There are quite a lot of such specific shorter time-bars for specific types of claims, many of them contained in the UAE Civil Code itself. For traders and their obligation towards each other arising out of commercial activities the UAE Commercial Transactions Law (UAE Federal Law No. 18 of 1993) sets a shorter standard time-bar of 10 years (Art. 95 CTL).
But it many cases the applicable time-bar will even be a lot shorter. The reason for this is that the legislator has aimed to find the right balance between all interests at stake relating to different types of claims taking into account not only the interests of all concerned persons but moreover the interest of the public in maintaining the legal peace. Hence in many circumstances wherein persons are acting that are deemed to be aware of their rights and where the subject matter is of a certain importance to the public, leading to the need of legal peace and a degree of certainty after a shorter period of time, the actual time-bar will be set quite short.
Below, are some examples of time-bars for certain claims:
A tort action - being an action for liability for damages arising from a harmful act - according to Article 298 of Civil Code will not be heard after the expiry of three years. The harmful act may stem from an action or omission in violation of a statutory or contractual obligation. The time limit of three years starts running from the day the injured person becomes aware of the occurrence of the harm and the person responsible for it.
According to Article 476 Civil Code the rights of any traders and craftsmen for things supplied by them to persons who are not dealing in such things (customers), and rights of hotel and restaurant owners for the cost of loading and boarding and all expenses born by them on behalf of their customers as well as the rights labourers, servants and hired men comprising daily and non-daily wages and cost of supplies provided by them shall not be heard by the court after the laps of two years unless there is a justifiable legal reason for not filing the claim earlier:
In Construction case, Article 883 Civil Code sets a three year time-bar for any claims of damages the employer may have against the contractor.
The time-bar related to air carrier cases is set by Article (370) of the Commercial Transactions Law which states that the legal right to bring a legal action against the carrier in question or any of its subordinators will be expired after the laps of two years. The two years start running from either, the day on which the airplane arrives or was supposed to have arrived, or from the day on which the carriage was stopped.
A claim made in respect of a contract of carriage will be time-barred after only one year from the date on which the goods were delivered or ought to have been delivered. The goods shall pass through the port gates in order to be considered as delivered.
The UAE Maritime Code contains a number of specific time-bars, e.g. a one year time-bar in charter party claims (Article 224), two years in pilotage and towage claims (Articles 314 and 317), two years in marine collision claims (Article 326) and two years for marine insurance claims (Article 399).