Time immemorial is a phrase meaning time extending beyond the reach of memory, record, or tradition, indefinitely ancient, "ancient beyond memory or record". The phrase is one of the few cases in the English language where the adjective is a postmodifier—some other phrases, such as the legal terms attorney general and court martial, also follow that pattern, largely due to the influence of Norman French.
In law, it means that a property or benefit has been enjoyed for so long that its owner does not have to prove how they came to own it. The term has been formally defined for some purposes:
- In English law and its derivatives, time immemorial means the same as time out of mind, "a time before legal history and beyond legal memory." In 1275, by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the King's accession. Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. In 1832, time immemorial was re-defined as "Time whereof the Memory of Man runneth not to the contrary." The plan of dating legal memory from a fixed time was abandoned; instead, it was held that rights which had been enjoyed for twenty years (or as against the Crown thirty years) should not be impeached merely by proving that they had not been enjoyed before (holding by adverse possession).
- The Court of Chivalry is said to have defined the period before 1066 as time immemorial for the purposes of heraldry.
- Oxford English Dictionary (1971 ed.), Vol. I, p. 63c
- Blackstone (1765) Commentary I viii 281
- The public domain Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
- Statute of Westminster, The First (3 Edw. I cap. 5)
- Prescription Act, The (2 & 3 Will. IV cap. 71) s.1
- About the College of Arms College of Arms (retrieved 24 May 2010)
- The dictionary definition of time immemorial at Wiktionary