Expressing Spanish Civil Law Concepts in Common Law Terms: What is prescripción ?

ExpressingCivil LawConcepts

Simply put, prescripción refers to the effect of the lapse of time on creating or destroying rights (Black’s Law Dictionary). Prescripción extintiva is the extinguishment of rights or obligations due to the passage of time when certain legal requisites are met (extinción de derechos o obligaciones por el transcurso del tiempo y con los requisitos previstos en la ley). A common example is prescripción de acciones o delitos, the idea that the law bars civil claims or criminal prosecutions after a specified period. This is known in Anglo-American legal terms as a “statute of limitations” or “limitation act,” a law that establishes time periods in which actions must be brought or crimes prosecuted. After that period has elapsed, it is said that the right in question has become “time-barred” or “statute-barred,” or that “the statute of limitations (on that action, prosecution, etc.) has run,” (or in British English, “has expired”), all of which simply mean el derecho ha prescrito. Related expressions include:

  • plazo de prescripción—limitation period (statutory period after which a action, claim, prosecution, etc. cannot be brought)
  • comienzo del curso de la prescripción; inicio del cómputo del plazo de prescripción—moment at which the statute of limitations/limitation period begins to run
  • excepción de prescripción—statute of limitations defense (defense in civil proceedings that the action or claim is statute or time-barred)
  • interrupción de la prescripción—tolling of the statute of limitations (interruption of the running of a statute of limitations)

In contrast to prescripción extintiva, prescripción adquisitiva (also called usucapión) denotes the creation or acquisition of rights in property by the passage of time. Indeed, prescripción adquisitiva is a means of acquiring ownership or other property rights through open, notorious, unopposed and continuous possession of the property for a legally-established uninterrupted period of time (posesión pública, pacífica, continuada e ininterrumpida durante el plazo posesorio). In common law terms prescripción adquisitiva is tantamount to “adverse possesion,” a method of acquiring title by actual possession of another’s real property that is open, hostile, exclusive, continuous and adverse to the claim of the owner, and which may give rise to title if carried out for a specific statutory period (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law).

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