Monthly Archives: March 2019

Plea of —Undue Influence

While considering the aspect of plea of undue influence and onus probandi, in Subhas Chandr Das Mushib v. Ganga Prasad Das Mushib, AIR 1967 SC 878, it was held as under:

       “Under Section 16(1) of the Contract Act a contract is said to be induced by undue influence where the relations subsisting between the parties are such that none of the parties is in a position to dominate the will of the other and uses that position to obtain an unfair advantage over the other. This shows that the court trying a case of undue influence must consider two things to start with, namely, (1) are the relations between the donor and the donee such that the donee is in a position to dominate the will of the donor, and (2) has the donee used that position to obtain an unfair advantage over the donor?

       The three stages for consideration of a case of undue influence were expounded in Raghunath Prasad Sahu v. Sarju Prasad Sahu, AIR 1924 PC 60, in the following words:

       “In the first place the relations between the parties to each other must be such that one is in a position to dominate the will of the other. Once that position is substantiated, the second stage has been reached, viz., the issue whether the contract has been induced by undue influence. Upon the determination of this issue a third point emerges, which is that of onus probandi. If the transaction appears to be unconscionable, then the burden of proving that the contract was not induced by undue influence is to lie upon the person who was in a position to dominate the will of the other.

       Error is almost sure to arise if the order of these propositions be changed. The unconscionableness of the bargain is not the first thing to be considered. The first thing to be considered is the relations of these parties. Were they such as to put one in a position to dominate the will of the other? Jamila Beguma v. Shami Mohd., (2019) 2 SCC 727.

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Second Marriage – When Permissible during Pendency of Appeal

Section 15 of the Hindu Marriage Act provides that it shall be lawful for either party to marry again after dissolution of a marriage, if there is no right of appeal against the decree. A second marriage by either party shall be lawful only after dismissal of an appeal against the decree of divorce, if filed. If there is no right of appeal the decree of divorce remains final and that either party to the marriage is free to marry again. In case an appeal is presented, any marriage before dismissal of the appeal shall not be lawful. The object of the provision is to provide protection to the person who has filed an appeal against the decree of dissolution of marriage and to ensure that the said appeal is not frustrated. The purpose of Section 15 of the Act is to avert complications that would arise due to a second marriage during the pendency of the appeal, in case the decree of dissolution of marriage is reversed. The protection that is afforded by Section 15 is primarily to a person who is contesting the decree of divorce.

       In case during the pendency of the appeal, there is a settlement between the husband and wife, and after entering into a settlement, he does not intend to contest the decree of divorce, his intention can be made clear by filing an application for withdrawal. In that case, he does not have to wait till a formal order is passed in the appeal or otherwise his marriage is unlawful. Following the principles of purposive construction, it was held that the restriction placed on a second marriage in Section 15 of the Hindu Marriage Act, till the dismissal of an appeal, would not apply to a case where parties have settled and decided not to pursue the appeal. Anurag Mittal v. Mrs. Shaily Mishra Mittal, 2019 (132) ALR 725.

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Arbitral Award – Interference With

An arbitral award can be set aside if it is contrary to (a) fundamental policy of Indian law, or (b) the interest of India, or (c) justice or morality. (Renusagar Power Co. Ltd. v. General Electric Co. [Renusagar Power Co. Ltd. v. General Electric Co., 1994 Supp (1) SCC 644] ) Patent illegality was added to the above three grounds in ONGC Ltd. v. Saw Pipes Ltd., (2003) 5 SCC 705. Illegality must go to the root of the matter and in case the illegality is of trivial nature it cannot be held that the award is against the public policy. It was further observed in ONGC Ltd. v. Saw Pipes Ltd., (2003) 5 SCC 705 that an award could also be set aside if it is so unfair and unreasonable that it shocks the conscience of the Court.

In  DDA v. R.S. Sharma and Co., (2008) 13 SCC 80 it was held that an award can be interfered with by the Court under Section 34 of the Act when it is contrary to:

(a) substantive provisions of law; or

(b) provisions of the 1996 Act; or

(c) against the terms of the respective contract; or

(d) patently illegal; or

(e) prejudicial to the rights of the parties.

The fundamental policy of India was explained in  ONGC Ltd. v. Western Geco International Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 263 as including all such fundamental principles as providing a basis for administration of justice and enforcement of law in this country. It was held inter alia, that a duty is cast on every tribunal or authority exercising powers that affect the rights or obligations of the parties to show a “judicial approach”. It was further held that judicial approach ensures that an authority acts bona fide and deals with the subject in a fair, reasonable and objective manner and its decision is not actuated by any extraneous considerations. It was also held that the requirement of application of mind on the part of the adjudicatory authority is so deeply embedded in our jurisprudence that it can be described as a fundamental policy of Indian law. The Court further observed that the award of the Arbitral Tribunal is open to challenge when the arbitrators fail to draw an inference which ought to be drawn or if they had drawn an inference which on the face of it is untenable resulting in miscarriage of justice. The Court has the power to modify the offending part of the award in case it is severable from the rest, according to the said judgment ONGC Ltd. v. Western Geco International Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 263.

The limit of exercise of power by courts under Section 34 of the Act has been comprehensively dealt in  Associate Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49. Lack of judicial approach, violation of principles of natural justice, perversity and patent illegality have been identified as grounds for interference with an award of the arbitrator. The restrictions placed on the exercise of power of a court under Section 34 of the Act have been analysed and enumerated in  Associate Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49 which are as follows:

(a) The court under Section 34(2) of the Act, does not act as a court of appeal while applying the ground of “public policy” to an arbitral award and consequently errors of fact cannot be corrected.

(b) A possible view by the arbitrator on facts has necessarily to pass muster as the arbitrator is the sole judge of the quantity and quality of the evidence.

(c) Insufficiency of evidence cannot be a ground for interference by the court. Re-examination of the facts to find out whether a different decision can be arrived at is impermissible under Section 34(2) of the Act.

(d) An award can be set aside only if it shocks the conscience of the court.

(e) Illegality must go to the root of the matter and cannot be of a trivial nature for interference by a court. A reasonable construction of the terms of the contract by the arbitrator cannot be interfered with by the court. Error of construction is within the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. Hence, no interference is warranted.

(f) If there are two possible interpretations of the terms of the contract, the arbitrator’s interpretation has to be accepted and the court under Section 34 cannot substitute its opinion over the arbitrator’s view. M.P. Power Generation Co. Ltd. v. ANSALDO Energia SPA, (2018) 16 SCC 661.

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Arbitration – Non-signatory Affiliates

In Chloro Controls India (P) Ltd. v. Severn Trent Water Purification Inc., (2013) 1 SCC 641, it was observed that ordinarily, an arbitration takes place between persons who have been parties to both the arbitration agreement and the substantive contract underlying it. English Law has evolved the “group of companies doctrine” under which an arbitration agreement entered into by a company within a group of corporate entities can in certain circumstances bind non-signatory affiliates. The test as formulated, is as follows:

       “Though the scope of an arbitration agreement is limited to the parties who entered into it and those claiming under or through them, the courts under the English Law have, in certain cases, also applied the “group of companies doctrine”. This doctrine has developed in the international context, whereby an arbitration agreement entered into by a company, being one within a group of companies, can bind its non-signatory affiliates or sister or parent concerns, if the circumstances demonstrate that the mutual intention of all the parties was to bind both the signatories and the non-signatory affiliates. This theory has been applied in a number of arbitrations so as to justify a tribunal taking jurisdiction over a party who is not a signatory to the contract containing the arbitration agreement.

       This evolves the principle that a non-signatory party could be subjected to arbitration provided these transactions were with group of companies and there was a clear intention of the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties. In other words, “intention of the parties” is a very significant feature which must be established before the scope of arbitration can be said to include the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties.”

       The court held that it would examine the facts of the case on the touchstone of the existence of a direct relationship with a party which is a signatory to the arbitration agreement, a ‘direct commonality’ of the subject matter and on whether the agreement between the parties is a part of a composite transaction:

       “A non-signatory or third party could be subjected to arbitration without their prior consent, but this would only be in exceptional cases. The court will examine these exceptions from the touchstone of direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement, direct commonality of the subject matter and the agreement between the parties being a composite transaction. The transaction should be of a composite nature where performance of the mother agreement may not be feasible without aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreements, for achieving the common object and collectively having bearing on the dispute. Besides all this, the Court would have to examine whether a composite reference of such parties would serve the ends of justice. Once this exercise is completed and the court answers the same in the affirmative, the reference of even non-signatory parties would fall within the exception afore discussed.

       Explaining the legal basis that may be applied to bind a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement, it was held thus:

       “The first theory is that of implied consent, third party beneficiaries, guarantors, assignment and other transfer mechanisms of contractual rights. This theory relies on the discernible intentions of the parties and, to a large extent, on good faith principle. They apply to private as well as public legal entities.

       The second theory includes the legal doctrines of agent-principal relations, apparent authority, piercing of veil (also called “the alter ego”), joint venture relations, succession and estoppels. They do not rely on the parties’ intention but rather on the force of the applicable law.” Cheran Properties Ltd.v. Kasturi and Sons Ltd., (2018) 6 SCC 413.

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