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83 Va. L. Rev. 647 (1997)
The Doctrine of Laches in International Law

handle is hein.journals/valr83 and id is 665 raw text is: NOTE
Ashraf Ray Ibrahim'
The doctrine of laches, as understood within the corpus of Anglo-
American law, is an equitable principle barring a stale claim due to the pas-
sage of time.' The doctrine is derived from a particular application of the
Latin maxim vigilantibus non dormientibus aequitas subvenit, translated as
equity aids the vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights,2 and may have
existed in early Roman Law.3 Unlike statutes of limitations, which are legis-
latively created and mechanically applied in courts of law, the doctrine of
laches developed as an affirmative defense in courts of equity-historically
outside the statute of limitations' purview.4 As a result, the doctrinal under-
pinnings of the laches principle are not based upon extrajudicially prescribed
time limits, but instead upon a rich history of justice, fairness, and the equita-
ble balancing of rights.5 This distinction between the doctrine of laches and
'I would like to dedicate this note to the late Professor Richard B. Lillich, the
University of Virginia's Howard W. Smith Professor of Law, who inspired me to research
this topic and provided much tutelage, guidance, and wisdom. I would also like to thank
Professor David Bederman, Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and
Associate Professor of Law at Emory University, for his comments and suggestions.
' For a basic review of the doctrine as applied in American courts of law and equity, see
Henry L. McClintock, Handbook of the Principles of Equity § 28 (2d ed. 1948); Visdean
R. Vass & Xia Chen, The Admiralty Doctrine of Laches, 53 La. L. Rev. 495 (1992);
Thomas G. Robinson, Note, Laches in Federal Substantive Law: Relation to Statutes of
Limitation, 56 B.U. L. Rev. 970 (1976).
2 See Vass & Chen, supra note 1, at 497. The word laches itself stems from the Latin
word laxus which means lax. Id.
Id. Scholars of American legal history note that Justice Story imported the doctrine
into the jurisprudence of the fledgling American Republic in 1815. Id. See Brown v.
Jones, 4 F. Cas. 404,406 (C.C.D. Mass. 1815) (No. 2017).
4 See McClintock, supra note 1, § 28, at 75; Robinson, supra note 1, at 971. American
admiralty courts have also drawn upon the doctrine of laches in rejecting stale claims.
See, e.g., Young v. Key City, 81 U.S. 653, 660 (1871); Vass & Chen, supra note 1, at 495-
5 Courts in the United States have announced a myriad of factors affecting the legal
application of the doctrine. See, e.g., McClintock, supra note 1, § 28, at 71-74 (stating that
courts have generally considered: (1) unreasonable delay; (2) prejudice to the defendant;
(3) potential loss of evidence; and (4) change in the value of the subject-matter involved).

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