The doctrine of laches

The doctrine of laches is also called the doctrine of estoppel by laches or the doctrine of stale demands. In other textbooks, it is also called the doctrine of slumbering/sleeping on one's rights.

The doctrine of laches is based upon grounds of public policy which requires, for the peace of society, the discouragement of stale claims and, unlike the statute of limitations, is not a mere question of time but is principally a question of the inequity or unfairness of permitting a right or claim to be enforced or asserted. (G.R. No. 152145. March 30, 2004)

The doctrine of laches is an equitable principle applied to promote but never to defeat justice. Thus, where laches is invoked against a plaintiff by reason of the latter's failure to come to court within the statutory period provided in the law, the doctrine of laches will not be taken against him where the defendant is shown to have promised from time to time to grant the relief sought for. Again, We have jurisprudence that where a defendant or those claiming under him recognized or directly or impliedly acknowledged existence of the right asserted by a plaintiff, such recognition may be invoked as a valid excuse for a plaintiff's delay in seeking to enforce such right. In brief, it is indeed the better rule that courts, under the principle of equity, will not be guided or bound strictly by the statute of limitations or the doctrine of laches when to do so, manifest wrong and injustice would result. (G.R. No. L-43203. July 29, 1977)

Laches is unreasonable delay in the bringing of a cause of action before the courts of justice. It must be noted that it is different from the statute of limitations (prescription). Prescription is by lapse of time in accordance with law; thus, law sets the time after which prescription sets in. On the other hand, laches is not set by law; it is a common law principle grounded on public policy and fair play.

Paras (2008), in his book, gave this example. If an action prescribes in 10 years, it should be brought to court as soon as possible, without waiting for 8 or 9 years, unless the delay can be justifiably explained (as when there is a search for evidence). Note therefore, that while an action has not yet prescribed, it may no longer be brought to court because of laches.
The Supreme Court has defined laches as the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier; it is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled thereto either has abandoned it or declined to assert it. However, courts will not be bound by strictures of the statute of limitations or laches when manifest wrong or injuries would result thereby. (78 SCRA 175)

Wikipedia explains that laches refers to a lack of diligence and activity in making a legal claim, or moving forward with legal enforcement of a right, particularly in regard to equity; hence, it is an unreasonable delay that can be viewed as prejudicing the opposing [defending] party. When asserted in litigation, it is an equity defense, that is, a defense to a claim for an equitable remedy. The person invoking laches is asserting that an opposing party has "slept on its rights", and that, as a result of this delay, circumstances have changed, witnesses or evidence may have been lost or no longer available, etc., such that it is no longer a just resolution to grant the plaintiff's claim. Laches is associated with the maxim of equity, "Equity aids the vigilant, not the sleeping ones [that is, those who sleep on their rights]." Put another way, failure to assert one's rights in a timely manner can result in a claim being barred by laches.

SOURCES: Edgardo L. Paras (2008). Civil Code Of The Philippines Annotated (Volume IV). 16th Edition, 1018 pages. Published 2008 by Rex Book Store (first published 1959). 9789712350665.

Laches (equity). From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia., citing, among others, Garner, Bryan A., ed. (2009). "Laches [Definition of 'laches' by Black's]". Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed.). ISBN 0314199497.