The Permanent Lok Adalat at Ernakulam has in its Order dtd.25.11.2014 held that the Law and Jurisdiction clause in a bill of lading which confers jurisdiction on the English High Court of Justice in London will exclude the jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalat to entertain the matter.
The Judgment of the Supreme Court of India in British India Steam Navigation V. Shanmughavilas Cashew Industries and others reported in 1990 SCC (3) 481 was followed by the Permanent Lok Adalat in its Order.
The Order was passed dismissing a petition filed by the consignee claiming return of amounts collected by the carrier at the discharge port towards demurrages and detention charges.
The Order is significant in view of the wide powers conferred on Permanent Lok Adalats to adjudicate disputes in case, parties are not able to arrive at a mediated settlement. The affirmation by the Supreme Court and various High Courts of the said power of the Permanent Lok Adalats has lead to its frequent invocation against shipping lines. Contentions rasied by shipping lines that they are not a "public utility service" falling within Section 22A (b) (i) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and that disputes arising out of contracts for Carriage of Goods by Sea do not fall within transport service for carriage of goods by water as defined in the above section of the Legal Services Authorities Act, have not met with success so far. The contention that the subject matter of the Complaint in a carriage of goods by sea dispute based on a bill of lading involves complex questions of Contract, which require elaborate evidence and hence is not fit for a summary trial and disposal in a Permanent Lok Adalat has also not met with approval. That the subject matter of the such Complaints involve complex questions of Contract, which require elaborate evidence and hence is not fit for a summary trial and disposal is a reason to exclude the jurisdiction of permanent lok adalats in such matters. That substantial court fee which would otherwise have been payable under the general civil law in a civil suit need not be paid while filing a complaint before the Adalat is an attraction to by pass civil courts.
It is in the above legal scenario that the Order dtd.25.11.2014 of the Permanent Lok Adalat, Ernakulam, dismissing the petition based on the 'Law and Jurisdiction' clause in the bill of lading, assumes relevance.
(The complete Order can be accessed from the link above.)