The law of prescription in South Africa is governed by the Prescription Act, which came into operation on 11 August 1969. The Act governs the extinction of debts, claims, and rights after a specified length of time. In other words, it establishes a time limit during which a person must exercise their rights, failing which the right is permanently lost.
The Prescription Act distinguishes between two sorts of prescriptions: extinctive and acquisitive. Extinctive prescription refers to the loss of the right to claim a debt or enforce a right, whereas acquisitive prescription refers to the acquisition of ownership or other real rights in property (after 30 years of continuous possession).
The Act specifies different prescription periods for different types of claims. The general prescription period for debts, for example, is three years, although the period for claims based on a debt relating to a negotiable instrument (such as a cheque or promissory note) is six years. The prescription term for claims based on a judgment debt is thirty years.
It is essential to understand that the prescription period starts only when the debt or claim becomes due. For example, if a debt is payable on demand, the prescription period begins only when the demand is made. Similarly, if a claim is subject to a suspensive condition, the prescription period begins only when the condition is fulfilled.
The Prescription Act also specifies when prescription can be interrupted or suspended. Prescription is interrupted when the debtor acknowledges the debt or when legal action is taken to enforce the claim. When prescription is interrupted, the prescription term commences anew from the point of interruption.
Prescriptions can also be suspended in specific conditions, such as when the debtor is a minor, mentally sick, or abroad. The prescription term is suspended in such circumstances until the debtor's disability is removed. In conclusion, the Prescription Act is significant in South African law since it regulates the time restrictions within which a person must enforce their rights. It is critical to understand the various prescription intervals as well as the circumstances under which prescription can be interrupted or suspended.
It is critical to keep track of when debts become due and to take action to enforce claims before the prescription time expires in order to maintain one's rights and avoid losing them. If you have any questions or worries concerning the legality of prescription in South Africa, it is always a good idea to check with a legal professional for help with understanding South Africa's Prescription Laws before you are “out of time”.
Source: Prescription Act 68 of 1969
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Date: 5 May 2023