Forum Non Conveniens.
The doctrine of forum non conveniens can be applied in matrimonial proceedings for advancing interest of justice. Under the said doctrine, the court exercises its inherent jurisdiction to stay proceedings at a forum which is considered not to be convenient and there is any other forum which is considered to be more convenient for the interest of all the parties at the ends of justice.
In Spiliada Maritime (1986)3 All ER 843 case the House of Lords laid down the following principle:
“The fundamental principle applicable to both the stay of English proceedings on the ground that some other forum was the appropriate forum and also the grant of leave to serve proceedings out of the jurisdiction was that the court would choose that forum in which the case could be tried more suitably for the interest of all the parties and for the ends of justice.”
The criteria to determine which was a 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. If the court concluded that there was no other available forum which was more appropriate than the English court, it would normally refuse a stay. If, however, the court concluded that there was another forum which was prima facie more appropriate, the court would normally grant a stay unless there were circumstances militating against a stay. It was noted that as the dispute concerning the contract in which the proper law was English law, it meant that England was the appropriate forum in which the case could be more suitably tried.
Though these observations have been made in the context of granting anti suit injunction, the principle can be followed in regulating the exercise of jurisdiction of the court where proceedings are instituted. In a civil proceeding, the plaintiff is the dominus litis but if more than one court has jurisdiction, court can determine which is the convenient forum and lay down conditions in the interest of justice subject to which its jurisdiction may be availed.
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. It depends on the facts of each case and the question whether the proceedings in a Court are vexatious or oppressive has to be decided on the basis of the material brought before the court.
Transfer of matrimonial dispute.
One cannot ignore the problem faced by a husband if proceedings are transferred on account of genuine difficulties faced by the wife. The husband may find it difficult to contest proceedings at a place which is convenient to the wife. Thus, transfer is not always a solution acceptable to both the parties. It may be appropriate that available technology of video conferencing is used where both the parties have equal difficulty and there is no place which is convenient to both the parties. We understand that in every district in the country video conferencing is now available. In any case, wherever such facility is available, it ought to be fully utilized and all the High Courts ought to issue appropriate administrative instructions to regulate the use of video conferencing for certain category of cases. Matrimonial cases where one of the parties resides outside court’s jurisdiction is one of such categories. Wherever one or both the parties make a request for use of video conference, proceedings may be conducted on video conferencing, obviating the needs of the party to appear in person. In several cases, this Court has directed recording of evidence by video conferencing.
The other difficulty faced by the parties living beyond the local jurisdiction of the court is ignorance about availability of suitable legal services. Legal Aid Committee of every district ought to make available selected panel of advocates whose discipline and quality can be suitably regulated and who are ready to provide legal aid at a specified fee. Such panels ought to be notified on the websites of the District Legal Services Authorities/State Legal Services Authorities/National Legal Services Authority. This may enhance access to justice consistent with Article 39A of the Constitution.
Use of Video Conference.
The advancement of technology ought to be utilized also for service on parties or receiving communication from the parties. Every district court must have at least one e-mail ID. Administrative instructions for directions can be issued to permit the litigants to access the court, especially when litigant is located outside the local jurisdiction of the Court. A designated officer/manager of a district court may suitably respond to such e-mail in the manner permitted as per the administrative instructions. Similarly, a manager/ information officer in every district court may be accessible on a notified telephone during notified hours as per the instructions. These steps may, to some extent, take care of the problems of the litigants. These suggestions may need attention of the High Courts.
Directions for use of technology
We are thus of the view that it is necessary to issue certain directions which may provide alternative to seeking transfer of proceedings on account of inability of a party to contest proceedings at a place away from their ordinary residence on the ground that if proceedings are not transferred it will result in denial of justice.
We, therefore, direct that in matrimonial or custody matters or in proceedings between parties to a marriage or arising out of disputes between parties to a marriage, wherever the defendants/respondents are located outside the jurisdiction of the court, the court where proceedings are instituted, may examine whether it is in the interest of justice to incorporate any safeguards for ensuring that summoning of defendant/respondent does not result in denial of justice. Order incorporating such safeguards may be sent along with the summons. The safeguards can be:-
i) Availability of video conferencing facility.
ii) Availability of legal aid service.
iii) Deposit of cost for travel, lodging and boarding in terms of Order XXV CPC.
iv) E-mail address/phone number, if any, at which litigant from out station may communicate.
We hope the above arrangement may, to an extent, reduce hardship to the litigants as noted above in the Order of this Court dated 9th January, 2017. However, in the present case since the matter is pending in this Court for about three years, we are satisfied that the prayer for transfer may be allowed. Accordingly, we direct that proceedings in Case No.179A/2013 under Section 13 of the Act titled “Harish Nagam vs. Krishna Veni Nagam” pending on the file of II Presiding Judge, Family Court, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh shall stand transferred to the Family Court, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. If the parties seek mediation the transferee court may explore the possibility of an amicable settlement through mediation. It will be open to the transferee court to conduct the proceedings or record evidence of the witnesses who are unable to appear in court by way of video conferencing. Records shall be sent by court where proceedings are pending to the transferee court forthwith.
The Registry to transmit a copy of this order to the courts concerned. A copy of this order be sent to all the High Courts for appropriate action.
(Source: Krishna Veni Nagam vs. Harish Nagam)