Critics have slammed the practice of forum shopping, but can anyone put a halt to activities designed to ensure a triumphant exit from India’s litigation labyrinth? Amit Vyas explores the issues
“Forum shopping” or “bench hunting” is the informal name given to the practice some litigants adopt in order to have their cases heard in a court, or by a particular judge, that is most likely to provide a favourable judgment. Forum shopping and bench hunting are not illegal or a contempt of court per se, but they are undesirable and unethical practices often adopted by powerful lawyers operating in several jurisdictions. The roots of such practices lie in the crafty wisdom of these lawyers.
Some hypothetical examples of these practices are highlighted below:
- A specific court presided over by a bench of judges is chosen for a builders dispute since it is known to have passed orders in favour of builders in the past. This bench takes away a matter listed before another bench – where it was pending for 12 years – and decides the case.
- A multinational company seeking an urgent interim injunction against a competitor in an advertisement-related dispute files a suit and application in a particular high court (all high courts in India have jurisdiction over this). On observing the judges’ body language, the company immediately withdraws the suit and files it in another high court to test whether the new bench would be more likely to rule in its favour. It proceeds after discovering that the new bench appears more favourably inclined to its cause.
- A particular judge is reputed for passing adverse orders in anticipatory bail applications. An unscrupulous accused person uses their lawyers to manage the court registry (by circumventing the procedure) to ensure that their application is not listed before that particular judge.
Amit Vyas is the vice president of legal at Mahyco in Mumbai. The views expressed in this article are strictly personal.