Statute of Limitations Australia

court room

The Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), Section 15B, and the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW), Section 179(1) sets the basis for the statute of limitations in Australia.


Statute of limitations Australia applies to both civil and criminal offences. Even though not all offences are covered under the statute of limitations in Australia, cases of negligence, breach of contract, theft, assault, drink driving and back taxes can be dismissed on the grounds of long delay before a charge is laid.


 Once the time to issue and file a “court attendance notice” has expired in summary and civil charges, police cannot bring the charges against the person.


If charged for a criminal offence categorised as an indictable offence like murder, armed robbery, rape, or fraud, the statute of limitation will not apply. For less serious crimes, it remains the jurisdiction of the court to make a determination as to whether the statutes of limitation apply, or can be extended.


Each Australian territory has its statute of limitations. However, the limitations or extensions on the Statutes of Limitations are determined by the nature and seriousness of the case.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitation is a law restricting the time frame within which parties can initiate a legal proceeding –criminal or civil. These legislative acts set the period in which a public officer, police officer, or private prosecution can legally be charged with an offence.


A defendant will use the statute of limitation as a defence to a case brought against him. The defence for statute of limitation is usually brought when the defendant answers the prosecutor or plaintiff’s first questions. Once the case has commenced and is at advanced stages, pleading for a statute of limitation will be null and void.


If a criminal with a summary offence stays in the open and a court attendance notice is not issued to him in person, the State loses the opportunity to prosecute the criminal.


Among the justifications for the statute of limitation in Australia include;


  • Prevent the deterioration of evidence, or loss of evidence
  • Prevent unfair prosecution of suspects
  • Ensure lawsuits are filed in a timely manner
  • Safeguard suspects against excessive delays before initiation of legal proceedings
  • Make those seeking legal address feel they aren’t denied justice

If after committing an offence one flees the place of crime leaving the state or territory, the statute of limitation restarts immediately they return to the state.

What is Limitation Period?

Limitation means restriction, restraining, or obstruction. Limitation period in law refers to the period a plaintiff has a legal right to institute a new court proceeding or a backup summary offence. After the expiry of the limitation period, the plaintiff will lose the authority to seek justice, that is, they are statute barred.


In the case of healthcare malpractice, the limitation period applies and starts when the patient knows he/she suffered an injury at the hands of a healthcare practitioner. In most Australian jurisdictions, the limitation period for healthcare malpractice is 3 years.

Is There a Statute of Limitations in Australia?

Whether you’re in South Australia, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, or residing in North Australia there’s a statute of limitation. The period of limitations in each territory is found in different enactments and applies differently.


The Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) Section 15B outlines time periods against which summary Commonwealth offences should be initiated. It will be an illegality to be charged for a summary offence 12 months after the alleged offense was committed or discovered.

Statute of Limitations South Australia

The Limitation of Acts 1936 covers the period of limitations in South Australia within which one can apply causes of action. This Act stipulates the periods of limitations for the following causes of action;


·      Recovery of land or rent – Part 2, Section 4

·      Breach of trust or trust breach – Part 3, Section 31

·      Recovery of money charged on legacies and land – Part 4, Section 33

·      Action on speciality – Part 5, Section 34

·      Actions on tort and simple contract – Part 6, Section 35


Under the Limitation Act 1936, Part 1A, Section 3A, there is no limitation of period for any action for damages relating to child abuse. Actions for child abuse include;


·      Serious physical abuse

·      Sexual abuse

·      Psychological abuse occasioned by physical abuse, or sexual abuse


According to the statute of limitations in South Australia, the time limit for police to charge a person for an expiable offence is six months after the expiry timeline of the expiation period. If not served with an expiation notice, the police have the authority to bring charges against the suspect within 6-months from the date of the alleged offence.


Other offences under summary offence have a time limit of 2 years from the date of the alleged offence.

Statute of Limitations Western Australia

Statute of limitations in Western Australia is contained in the Criminal Procedure Act 2004(WA), Section 21. The time limit set for the commencement of a simple offense by the prosecutor is within 12 months from the day a prosecution notice was signed and lodged with the court.


Magistrate courts have the exclusive discretion to deal summarily with simple offenses. Simple offenses or summary offenses include drink driving, drug possession, disorderly behaviour, and common assault.


Section 21(1) provides for the commencement of an indictable offense. According to this Section, an indictable offense can be commenced at any time. The only exemption to this statute of limitation is when another law otherwise provides.


Examples of indictable offenses include treason, murder, rape, grant theft, fraud, aggravated burglary, and kidnapping. These offenses are dealt with in the Supreme Court of NSW.

Statute of Limitations NSW (New South Wales)

The time limitations in NSW are contained in the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW), Section 179. Sections 1 to 4 outline time limits as follows:


·      Summary offenses – 6 months from the alleged date the offense was committed

·      Summary offense relating to the death of a person subject to the coronial inquest- 6 months from the date the inquest was completed

  • 2 years from the date the offense was committed

·      Back up summary offenses – Before the expiry of 6 months from date District Courts determine for an appeal against a conviction

·      Indictable offenses- No set time limit


The statute of limitation in NSW for civil claims is 6 months while the Limitation Act 1969 (NSW) sets the statute of limitation for debt to be 6 years.

Exceptions to the Statute of limitations in NSW

Section 179(2) states the exemptions to the statutes of limitation NSW. Serious offenses falling under the jurisdiction of higher courts like murder do not fall under the statutes of limitation.


Other exemptions include;


·      An offense given different time period by an Act or Law within which the proceeding must be commenced. An example is a firearm offense. 


Under the Firearms Act 1996 (NSW), Section 85, the time limitation for commencement for a firearm offense is 2 years from the date the alleged offense was committed.


In traffic offenses, the fines impose a 12-month statute of limitation. This is specified in the Fines Act 1996 (NSW), Section 37A. The fines must be paid 12 months from the date of the incident.


·      An indictable offense dealt with in the junior courts summarily

·      A backup summary offense with an appeal against conviction

·      A summary offense involving the death of a person

Statute of Limitations Queensland

There are many statutes of limitation in Queensland. The majority of the limitation of actions is stipulated in the Limitation of Actions Act 1974 (Qld).


The time limitations stipulated under the Limitation of Actions Act 1974 (Qld) part, Section 10 are as follows;


·      Actions on simple contract, torts, quasi-contract – 6 years, Section 10 (1)(a)

·      Action to enforce a recognisance – 6 years, Section 10(1)(b)

·      An action to enforce awarding of an agreement to arbitration not by an instrument under seal – 6 years, Section 10(1)(c)

·      A action to recover a stated amount – 6 years, Section 10(1)d)

·      An action for an account – 6 years, Section 10(2)

·      An action upon defamation – 1 year, Section 10AA

·      An action to recover recoverable paid tax – 1 year from the date of payment, Section 10A(1)

·      An action related to personal injury – 3 years from the date for the cause of action, Section 11


There are exemptions to the statutes of limitation Qld. Section 32A allows for the extension of the time limit for a defamation action to 3 years. Again, the Justices Act 1886 (Qld), Section 52 allows for police to prosecute a simple offense like the breach of duty before the expiration of 2 years from the date the offense was alleged.

Statute of Limitations Victoria

The statute of limitations in Victoria Australia is specified in the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 (Vic).


Other Acts mentioning periods for the commencement of an offense include, but are not limited to Children, Youth, and Families Act 2005, Chapter 5, Part 5.1A, and the Criminal Procedure Act 2009, Section 7. Under this Act, a summary offense can be commenced after the expiry of the set time period if another Act so states or if the accused and DPP gives consent.


Part II of the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 (Vic), Sections 23, 23(B), and 27(K), states the circumstances for the extension of limitation of periods for causes of action for defamation, personal injury, and cause of disability.


For summary offenses, the statute of limitation is 12 months in Victoria.

Under Section 5(1) of the Victorian Limitations Act, causes for an action for contract and tort cannot be commenced after the expiry of 6 years.

Statute of Limitations Tasmania

Statutes of limitation Tasmania for offenses such as actions arising out of contract, tort, personal injury, action to recover a sum recoverable, and an action to enforce a recognizance are specified in the Limitations Act 1974(TS), Section 4. The limitation period for these offenses is 6 years.


This limitation period also covers common assault, damage to property, and disorderly conduct.


Other causes for action like speciality and judgment cannot be prosecuted after the expiry of 12 years.

Statute of Limitations Northern Territory

Section 52 of the Local Court (Criminal Procedure) Act 1928 Northern Territory sets the limitation for making any complaint to 6 months from the time the complaint arose.


Simple offenses in NT such as disorderly conduct and driving under influence of alcohol have a limitation period of 6 months.


For an indictable offense to be finalised at the Supreme Court in the NT there is no time limitation. The police can therefore initiate proceedings at any time since the offense occurred. Indictable offenses in this case include;


·      Murder

·      Stealing

·      Rape

·      Assault

·      Sexual assault offenses

Does Australia have a Statute of Limitations?

Each Australian territory has a statute of limitations. The set time limitations for most of the summary offenses within the Australian jurisdictions range from 6 months to 12 years. However, there is no statute of limitation in Australia for serious indictable offenses dealt with in the Supreme Court.


Summary of the Statutes of Limitation in Australia


Cause for Action

Limitation Act

Limitation Period

statute of limitations victoria civil

Limitation of Actions Act 1958 (Vic)

12 Months

Australia statute of limitations criminal

Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)

12 Months

Statute of limitations nsw civil

Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW)

6 Months

statute of limitations South Australia debt

Limitation of Actions Act 1936

6 Years

Breach of contract statute of limitations Australia(NSW)

Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW)

6 Years

Statute of limitations South Australia assault

Limitation of Acts 1936

2 Years

Statute of limitations tax evasion Australia(Qld)

Taxation Administration Act 2001

2-4 Years

Exemptions to no limitation period

Statute of limitations contract Australia(NSW)

Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW)

6 Years

Statute of limitations Victoria summary

Limitation of Actions Act 1958 (Vic)

12 Months

It’s advisable to seek legal advice to avoid judicial prejudice or when accused of committing an offence several years back. Lyons Law Group has expert criminal lawyers in Liverpool to advise you on any legal matter you’re faced with.

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    • Mohammad Khan | Criminal Defence Lawyer

      Mohammad Khan is the Principal Solicitor of Lyons Law Group. After graduating with a Bachelor of Aviation from the University of New South Wales, Mohammad took a keen interest in the law. He began training in criminal law under the tutelage of Australia’s leading criminal lawyer Adam Houda and studied law at the University of Sydney.