5 Aug 2010

Courts to promote Alternate Dispute Resolution: Supreme Court

In a near exhaustive discussion and summation of Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the Supreme Court of India in a recent decision in the matter of Afcons Infrastructure Ltd. v. Cherian Varkey Construction Co. Pvt. Ltd. has examined the law under the said provision which casts an obligation over the civil court to refer the parties to a cause to settle their dispute through the various forms of Alternate Dispute Resolution. 

Even though whereas upon an examination of Section 89 of the Code along with the stipulations of Order X therein the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the provision is incorrectly worded and various faults in the legislative drafting to that effect were pointed out, the Bench applied the rule of interpretation to make it workable. The Bench also, on its own, took up the task of identifying which all cases could be referred to alternate forms of dispute resolution, given the nature of these disputes and also noted that "Section 89 refers to five types of ADR procedures, made up of one adjudicatory process (arbitration) and four negotiatory (non adjudicatory) processes - conciliation, mediation, judicial settlement and Lok Adalat settlement." The Bench further went on to clarify the meaning and ambit of each of these five forms of alternate dispute resolution

Thereupon the Supreme Court passed the following guidelines to be adopted by the Courts in India;
31. We may summarize the procedure to be adopted by a court under section 89 of the Code as under :
a) When the pleadings are complete, before framing issues, the court shall fix a preliminary hearing for appearance of parties. The court should acquaint itself with the facts of the case and the nature of the dispute between the parties.
b) The court should first consider whether the case falls under any of the category of the cases which are required to be tried by courts and not fit to be referred to any ADR processes. If it finds the case falls under any excluded category, it should record a brief order referring to the nature of the case and why it is not fit for reference to ADR processes. It will then proceed with the framing of issues and trial.
c) In other cases (that is, in cases which can be referred to ADR processes) the court should explain the choice of five ADR processes to the parties to enable them to exercise their option.
d) The court should first ascertain whether the parties are willing for arbitration. The court should inform the parties that arbitration is an adjudicatory process by a chosen private forum and reference to arbitration will permanently take the suit outside the ambit of the court. The parties should also be informed that the cost of arbitration will have to be borne by them. Only if both parties agree for arbitration, and also agree upon the arbitrator, the matter should be referred to arbitration.
e) If the parties are not agreeable for arbitration, the court should ascertain whether the parties are agreeble for reference to conciliation which will be governed by the provisions of the AC Act. If all the parties agree for reference to conciliation and agree upon the conciliator/s, the court can refer the matter to conciliation in accordance with section 64 of the AC Act. 
f) If parties are not agreeable for arbitration and conciliation, which is likely to happen in most of the cases for want of consensus, the court should, keeping in view the preferences/options of parties, refer the matter to any one of the other three other ADR processes : (a) Lok Adalat; (b) mediation by a neutral third party facilitator or mediator; and (c) a judicial settlement, where a Judge assists the parties to arrive at a settlement.
(g) If the case is simple which may be completed in a single sitting, or cases relating to a matter where the legal principles are clearly settled and there is no personal animosity between the parties (as in the case of motor accident claims), the court may refer the matter to Lok Adalat. In case where the questions are complicated or cases which may require several rounds of negotiations, the court may refer the matter to mediation. Where the facility of mediation is not available or where the parties opt for the guidance of a Judge to arrive at a settlement, the court may refer the matter to another Judge for attempting settlement.
(h) If the reference to the ADR process fails, on receipt of the Report of the ADR Forum, the court shall proceed with hearing of the suit. If there is a settlement, the court shall examine the settlement and make a decree in terms of it, keeping the principles of Order 23 Rule 3 of the Code in mind.
(i) If the settlement includes disputes which are not the subject matter of the suit, the court may direct that the same will be governed by Section 74 of the AC Act (if it is a Conciliation Settlement) or Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 (if it is a settlement by a Lok Adalat or by mediation which is a deemed Lok Adalat). This will be necessary as many settlement agreements deal with not only the disputes which are the subject matter of the suit or proceeding in which the reference is made, but also other disputes which are not the subject matter of the suit. 
(j) If any term of the settlement is ex facie illegal or unforceable, the court should draw the attention of parties thereto to avoid further litigations and disputes about executability.
32. The Court should also bear in mind the following consequential aspects, while giving effect to Section 89 of the Code : 
(i) If the reference is to arbitration or conciliation, the court has to record that the reference is by mutual consent. Nothing further need be stated in the order sheet.
(ii) If the reference is to any other ADR process, the court should briefly record that having regard to the nature of dispute, the case deserves to be referred to Lok Adalat, or mediation or judicial settlement, as the case may be. There is no need for an elaborate order for making the reference. 
(iii) The requirement in Section 89(1) that the court should formulate or reformulate the terms of settlement would only mean that court has to briefly refer to the nature of dispute and decide upon the appropriate ADR process. 
(iv) If the Judge in charge of the case assists the parties and if settlement negotiations fail, he should not deal with the adjudication of the matter, to avoid apprehensions of bias and prejudice. It is therefore advisable to refer cases proposed for Judicial Settlement to another Judge. 
(v) If the court refers the matter to an ADR process (other than Arbitration), it should keep track of the matter by fixing a hearing date for the ADR Report. The period allotted for the ADR process can normally vary from a week to two months (which may be extended in exceptional cases, depending upon the availability of the alternative forum, the nature of case etc.). Under no circumstances the court should allow the ADR process to become a tool in the hands of an unscrupulous litigant intent upon dragging on the proceedings.
(vi) Normally the court should not send the original record of the case when referring the matter for an ADR forum. It should make available only copies of relevant papers to the ADR forum. (For this purpose, when pleadings are filed the court may insist upon filing of an extra copy). However if the case is referred to a Court annexed Mediation Centre which is under the exclusive control and supervision of a Judicial Officer, the original file may be made available wherever necessary.
33. The procedure and consequential aspects referred to in the earlier two paragraphs are intended to be general guidelines subject to such changes as the concerned court may deem fit with reference to the special circumstances of a case. We have referred to the procedure and process rather elaborately as we find that section 89 has been a non-starter with many courts. Though the process under Section 89 appears to be lengthy and complicated, in practice the process is simple: know the dispute; exclude ‘unfit’ cases; ascertain consent for arbitration or conciliation; if there is no consent, select Lok Adalat for simple cases and mediation for all other cases, reserving reference to a Judge assisted settlement only in exceptional or special cases. 

No comments: