Law’s Temporal Dimensions

Course Description

Time influences our understanding of law in many ways. This seminar explores three overarching and overlapping topics on the subject of time in the law: (1) the rules of law and principles of equity that bar rights to civil recourse after a period of time (namely, limitations and laches); (2) the legal theories and doctrines that determine when judicial decisions are legally binding (such as doctrines of retroactivity, prospective overruling, and suspended declarations of invalidity); and (3) the legal theories and doctrines that specify if and when retroactive legislation is justified.

The seminar addresses the intersection between theory and practice and will be relevant to anyone planning a career in the law. It will be especially relevant to those intending either to practice litigation (in any area) or to work on the design and implementation of legislation or policy.

The course content spans issues in domestic private law, criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, civil procedure, taxation, and jurisprudence. No specialised knowledge of these subjects is expected beyond the First Year Program. We will make use of primary and secondary sources from British Columbia, common law Canada, England and Wales, New Zealand, the United States, and other common law jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

List of Topics

  1. Introduction
  2. Time-bars
  3. Limitation Exceptions
  4. Judicial Law-making
  5. Discoverability of Mistakes of Law
  6. Nonretroactive Judgments – Civil
  7. Nonretroactive Judgments – Criminal
  8. Retroactive Legislation – Criminal
  9. Retroactive Legislation – Civil
  10. Redressing Historic Sex Abuse
  11. Redressing Historic Cultural Injustice

Learning Objectives

By the end of the seminar, students will have learned:

  • the principles and policies behind various kinds of time-bars in statute, common law, and equity;
  • the rationales behind the techniques of prospective overruling and suspended declarations;
  • ways to think about the nature of judicial law-making;
  • what kinds of retroactive legislation might (or might not) offend the rule of law; and
  • ways to think about temporal issues in difficult cases of historic abuse and injustice.

Related Scholarship