Delay in seeking reference to arbitration

Application to court seeking reference to arbitration:

Section 8 of THE ARBITRATION AND CONCILIATION ACT, 1996 is as under:

Power to refer parties to arbitration where there is an arbitration agreement.—
(1) A judicial authority before which an action is brought in a matter which is the subject of an arbitration agreement shall, if a party so applies not later than when submitting his first statement on the substance of the dispute, refer the parties to arbitration.
(2) The application referred to in sub-section (1) shall not be entertained unless it is accompanied by the original arbitration agreement or a duly certified copy thereof.
(3) Notwithstanding that an application has been made under sub-section (1) and that the issue is pending before the judicial authority, an arbitration may be commenced or continued and an arbitral award made.

Effect of delay, laches & waiver:

Though section 8 does not prescribe any time limit for filing an application under that section, and only states that the application under section 8 of the Act should be filed before submission of the first statement on the substance of the dispute. The scheme of the Act and the provisions of the section clearly indicate that the application thereunder should be made at the earliest. Obviously, a party who willingly participates in the proceedings in the suit and subjects himself to the jurisdiction of the court cannot subsequently turn round and say that the parties should be referred to arbitration in view of the existence of an arbitration agreement. Whether a party has waived his right to seek arbitration and subjected himself to the jurisdiction of the court, depends upon the conduct of such party in the suit.

When plaintiffs file applications for interim relief like appointment of a receiver or grant of a temporary injunction, the defendants have to contest the application. Such contest may even lead to appeals and revisions where there may be even stay of further proceedings in the suit. If supplemental proceedings like applications for temporary injunction on appointment of Receiver, have been pending for a considerable time and a defendant has been contesting such supplemental proceedings, it cannot be said that the defendant has lost the right to seek reference to arbitration. At the relevant time, the unamended Rule 1 of Order VIII of the Code was governing the filing of written statements and the said rule did not prescribe any time limit for filing written statement. In such a situation, mere passage of time between the date of entering appearance and date of filing the application under section 8 of the Act, can not lead to an inference that a defendant subjected himself to the jurisdiction of the court for adjudication of the main dispute. The facts in this case show that the plaintiff in the suit had filed an application for temporary injunction and appointment of Receiver and that was pending for some time. Thereafter, talks were in progress for arriving at a settlement out of court. When such talks failed, the appellant filed an application under section 8 of the Act before filing the written statement or filing any other statement which could be considered to be a submission of a statement on the substance of the dispute.

Source: Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc vs Sbi Home Finance Ltd.

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