By Vijay Pal Dalmia,
Supreme Court of India and High Court of Delhi
Partner Vaish Associates Advocates
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Where only one Court has jurisdiction it is said to have exclusive jurisdiction; where more courts than one have jurisdiction over a subject-matter, they are called courts of available or natural jurisdiction.
The growing global commercial activities gave rise to the practice of the parties to a contract agreeing beforehand to approach for resolution of their disputes thereunder, to either any of the available courts of natural jurisdiction and thereby create an exclusive or non-exclusive jurisdiction in one of the available forums or to have the disputes resolved by a foreign court of their choice as a neutral forum according to the law applicable to that court. It is a well-settled principle that by agreement the parties cannot confer jurisdiction, where non exists, on a court to which CPC applies, but this principle does not apply when the parties agree to submit to the exclusive or non-exclusive jurisdiction of a foreign court; indeed in such cases the English Courts do permit invoking their jurisdiction. Thus, it is clear that the parties to a contract may agree to have their disputes resolved by a Foreign Court termed as a 'neutral court' or 'court of choice' creating exclusive or non-exclusive jurisdiction in it.
The criteria to determine which was more appropriate forum, for the purpose of ordering stay of the suit, the court would look for that forum with which the action had the most real and substantial connection in terms of convenience or expense, availability of witnesses, the law governing the relevant transaction and the places where the parties resided or carried on business.
Normally, the court will give effect to the intention of the parties as expressed in the agreement entered into by them except when strong reasons justify disregard of the contractual obligations of the parties.
Supreme Court of India in the case of Modi Entertainment Network and Anr. Vs. W.S.G. Cricket PTE. Ltd. (AIR2003SC1177), has propounded the principles for grant of anti-suit injunctions as under:
- In exercising discretion to grant an
anti-suit injunction the court must be satisfied of the following
- the defendant, against whom injunction is sought, is amenable to the personal jurisdiction of the court;
- if the injunction is declined the ends of justice will be defeated and injustice will be perpetuated; and
- the principle of comity -- respect for the court in which the commencement or continuance of action/proceeding is sought to be restrained -- must be borne in mind;
- in a case where more forums than one are available, the Court in exercise of its discretion to grant anti-suit injunction will examine as to which is the appropriate forum (Forum conveniens) having regard to the convenience of the parties and may grant anti-suit injunction in regard to proceedings which are oppressive or vexations or in a forum non-conveniens;
- Where jurisdiction of a court is invoked on the basis of jurisdiction clause in a contract, the recitals therein in regard to exclusive or non-exclusive jurisdiction of the court of choice of the parties are not determinative but are relevant factors and when a question arises as to the nature of jurisdiction agreed to between the parties the court has to decide the same on a true interpretation of the contract on the facts and in the circumstances of each case;
- a court of natural jurisdiction will not normally grant anti-suit injunction against a defendant before it where parties have greed to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of a court including a foreign court, a forum of their choice in regard to the commencement or continuance of proceedings in the court of choice, save in an exceptional case for good and sufficient reasons, with a view to prevent injustice in circumstances such as which permit a contracting party to be relieved of the burden of the contract; or since the date of the contract the circumstances or subsequent events have made it impossible for the party seeking injunction to prosecute the case in the court of choice because the essence of the jurisdiction of the court does not exist or because of a vis major or force majeure and the like;
- where parties have agreed, under a non- exclusive jurisdiction clause, to approach a neutral foreign forum and be governed by the law applicable to it for the resolution of their disputes arising under the contract, ordinarily no anti- suit injunction will be granted in regard to proceedings in such a forum conveniens and favoured forum as it shall be presumed that the parties have thought over their convenience and all other relevant factors before submitting to non-exclusive jurisdiction of the court of their choice which cannot be treated just an alternative forum;
- a party to the contract containing jurisdiction clause cannot normally be prevented from approaching the court of choice of the parties as it would amount to aiding breach of the contract; yet when one of the parties to the jurisdiction clause approaches the court of choice in which exclusive or non-exclusive jurisdiction is created, the proceedings in that court cannot per se be treated as vexatious or oppressive nor can the court be said to be forum non-conveniens; and
- the burden of establishing that the forum of the choice is a forum non- conveniens or the proceedings therein are oppressive or vexatious would be on the party so contending to aver and prove the same.
It has been further held that it cannot be laid down as a general principle that once the parties have agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of a foreign court, the proceedings or the action brought either in the court of natural jurisdiction or in the court of choice will per se be oppressive or vexatious.
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