Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Nullum Tempus Occurit Regi Definition:

Latin: time does not run against the King.

Related Terms: Adverse Possession, Rex Non Potest Peccare

An ancient and, for the most part, verba fata (obsolete) principle of the law as displaced by statute, that exempted the Crown (government) from the effect of limitations or laches.

It is often used to defeat claims based on squatters' rights (adverse possession) when an individual holds possession of Crown land for a long period of time:

"The old common law prerogative did not acknowledge adverse possession against the Crown - nullum tempus occurrit regi."1

In United States v. Thompson, Justice Swayne of the Supreme Court of United States explained:

"No laches can be imputed to the government, and against it no time runs so as to bar its rights....

"The rule of nullum tempus occurit regi has existed as an element of the English law from a very early period. It is discussed in Bracton, and has come down to the present time.....

"The common law fixed no time as to the bringing of actions. Limitations derive their authority from statutes. The king was held never to be included, unless expressly named. No laches was imputable to him. These exemptions were founded upon considerations of public policy. It was deemed important that, while the sovereign was engrossed by the cares and duties of his office, the public should not suffer by the negligence of his servants."

The 1909 edition of Halsbury's Laws of England summarized the context of nullum tempus occurit regi as follows;

"The law also clothes the person of the Sovereign with absolute perfection; hence it is a maxim of the common law that the King can do no wrong (rex non potest pecare), and, except by petition of right or traverse of office, and the cases in which actions relating to Crown private estates are provided for by statute, no remedy lies against the Sovereign in person either in civil or criminal matters, since the law supplies no remedy where there is no right. For the prerogative is created for the benefit of the people and cannot be exerted to their prejudice, and the law will presume no injury where it has provided no remedy.

"The Sovereign is regarded in law as being incapable of thinking wrong, or meaning to do an improper act. Hence, when royal grants are void as being against law, or invalid for some latent or other defect, the law holds them void on the ground that the Sovereign is deceived in his grant, rather than that his personal majesty should be lessened by the imputation of intentional wrong.

"In pursuance of the same principle of perfection, no laches or negligence can be attributed to the Sovereign at common law, and no delay will bar his right, the maxim of law being that "time does not run against the king" (Nullum tempus occurrit regi). In certain cases, however, the Crown is limited by statute as to the time within which proceedings may be commenced."


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