Power of Civil Court to split suit into arbitrable and non-arbitrable dispute?

Section 8 of 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.”

For interpretation of Section 8, Section 5 would have no bearing because it only contemplates that in the matters governed by Part-I of the Act, Judicial authority shall not intervene except where so provided in the Act. Except Section 8, there is no other provision in the Act that in a pending suit, the dispute is required to be referred to the arbitrator. Further, the matter is not required to be referred to the arbitral Tribunal, if (1) the parties to the arbitration agreement have not filed any such application for referring the dispute to the arbitrator; (2) in a pending suit, such application is not filed before submitting first statement on the substance of the dispute; or (3) such application is not accompanied by the original arbitration agreement or duly certified copy thereof. This would, therefore, mean that Arbitration Act does not oust the jurisdiction of the Civil Court to decide the dispute in a case where parties to the Arbitration Agreement do not take appropriate steps as contemplated under sub- sections (1) & (2) of Section 8 of the Act.

Secondly, there is no provision in the Act that when the subject matter of the suit includes subject matter of the arbitration agreement as well as other disputes, the matter is required to be referred to arbitration. There is also no provision for splitting the cause or parties and referring the subject matter of the suit to the arbitrators.

Thirdly, there is no provision as to what is required to be done in a case where some parties to the suit are not parties to the arbitration agreement. As against this, under Section 24 of the Arbitration Act, 1940, some of the parties to a suit could apply that the matters in difference between them be referred to arbitration and the Court may refer the same to arbitration provided that the same can be separated from the rest of the subject matter of the suit. Section also provided that the suit would continue so far as it related to parties who have not joined in such application.

The relevant language used in Section 8 is “in a matter which is the subject matter of an arbitration agreement”, Court is required to refer the parties to arbitration. Therefore, the suit should be in respect of ‘a matter’ which the parties have agreed to refer and which comes within the ambit of arbitration agreement. Where, however, a suit is commenced – “as to a matter” which lies outside the arbitration agreement and is also between some of the parties who are not parties to the arbitration agreement, there is no question of application of Section 8. The words ‘a matter’ indicates entire subject matter of the suit should be subject to arbitration agreement.

If there is no provision for partly referring the dispute to arbitration, whether such a course is possible under Section 8 of the Act?

In our view, it would be difficult to give an interpretation to Section 8 under which bifurcation of the cause of action that is to say the subject matter of the suit or in some cases bifurcation of the suit between parties who are parties to the arbitration agreement and others is possible. This would be laying down a totally new procedure not contemplated under the Act. If bifurcation of the subject matter of a suit was contemplated, the legislature would have used appropriate language to permit such a course. Since there is no such indication in the language, it follows that bifurcation of the subject matter of an action brought before a judicial authority is not allowed.

Secondly, such bifurcation of suit in two parts, one to be decided by the arbitral tribunal and other to be decided by the civil court would inevitably delay the proceedings. The whole purpose of speedy disposal of dispute and decreasing the cost of litigation would be frustrated by such procedure. It would also increase the cost of litigation and harassment to the parties and on occasions there is possibility of conflicting judgments and orders by two different forums.

Reliance was placed on Section 89 CPC in support of the argument that the matter should have been referred to arbitration. In our view, Section 89 CPC cannot be resorted to for interpreting Section 8 of the Act as it stands on a different footing and it would be applicable even in cases where there is no arbitration agreement for referring the dispute for arbitration. Further, for that purpose, the Court has to apply its mind to the condition contemplated under Section 89 CPC and even if application under Section 8 of the Act is rejected, the Court is required to follow the procedure prescribed under the said Section.

[Source: Sukanya Holdings Pvt. Ltd vs Jayesh H. Pandya decided by SC on 14 April, 2003]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s