If someone has a legal claim against another person, they should get legal advice about it as soon as possible. One very important reason is that most legal actions must be started within a particular period of time. Usually this will be a number of years, but in some cases the time period can be as little as 21 days as is the case for an action for unfair dismissal in the federal Industrial Relations Commission or an appeal against a decision made in the Magistrates Court. In other cases, the person must give notice of the intention to take legal action and in such cases the time limit will usually be a matter of months.

There are a number of reasons why the law imposes time limits on legal actions. The most important of these is that people should be able to conduct their business affairs, and get on with their lives generally, without the continued threat of having to deal with legal actions for things that happened many years before. Another is that the longer that legal actions are delayed, the harder it will be to get together the evidence needed to resolve them. A person’s memory of events quickly fades, documents are lost and witnesses move on or even die.

Extensions of Time Limits

Time limits are generally imposed by legislation which creates or regulates the legal action. Quite often the legislation which imposes the time limit will allow someone to seek an extension of time to take legal action where time has run out. But potential litigants should not allow this to lull them into the belief that time limits don't matter. Often applications to extend time must be made within a time limit, and in cases where no particular time limit is imposed, the longer the person leaves it, the harder it will be to get an extension.

In some cases specific grounds on which someone can seek an extension of time are set out, but generally they will need to show that there was a good reason for the delay, that the delay is not going to cause unfairness to the other party (because, for example, a vital witness has died) and that they have a reasonable case to argue.

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