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Understanding Forum Shopping

The act of forum shopping is employed in order to have cases heard in a court that is more likely to give a favourable ruling. In forum shopping petitioners or lawyers may intentionally try to move their case to a particular judge or Court in order to seek a more favourable judgment. This practice is commonly referred to as 'Bench hunting'.

Litigants often utilize forum shopping as a legal tactic to identify a jurisdiction or court system that will best benefit their case. This involves carefully selecting a court or venue where they believe the laws and judges will be more favourable to their position, potentially resulting in a more favourable outcome.

However, this practice is often criticized for its manipulation of the legal system and its potential to create inconsistencies in judicial decisions and unfairness to other parties involved. A prime example of forum shopping can be observed in multinational corporations' disputes, as they may have the ability to file a lawsuit or arbitration in various countries where they have operations and assets. This can lead to the selection of a jurisdiction with little connection to the case, solely based on the anticipation of a more favourable legal environment or sympathetic judges.

Another instance of forum shopping is prevalent in intellectual property disputes, where patent holders may choose to enforce their patents in jurisdictions known for strict enforcement of intellectual property rights or where damages tend to be higher. Conversely, accused infringers may seek to transfer the case to a jurisdiction with less stringent patent laws or where courts are less likely to grant injunctive relief.

In many family law cases, forum shopping is a common tactic used by parties. This occurs when one party in a divorce, child custody, or alimony case attempts to file in a jurisdiction that offers more favourable laws for their desired outcome. For example, a spouse seeking a better division of assets or custody arrangement may choose to file in a jurisdiction with more generous spousal support laws or a history of favouring one parent over the other in custody disputes. This can result in lengthy legal battles as each party tries to gain control over the case.

Forum shopping is not limited to domestic disputes, as it can also occur in international conflicts between states or between states and private entities. In these situations, states may choose to bring claims against one another or against private actors in international tribunals or courts that they believe will be more sympathetic to their interests. For instance, a developing country may opt to bring a trade dispute against a developed country in a forum where they believe they will receive fair treatment or where the legal standards align more closely with their economic interests.

Criticism of Forum Shopping:
The practice of forum shopping undermines the integrity of justice by undermining the fundamental principles of fairness, disregarding the respect between courts, and impeding the conclusion of legal proceedings. It undermines the right to a fair trial by selectively seeking out favourable forums, disregards legal norms by seeking out sympathetic jurisdictions, and prolongs legal disputes, causing disruptions in the efficient administration of justice.

Forum shopping has the potential to bring about a multitude of significant repercussions. Primarily, it can result in disparate outcomes in legal disputes, as various courts may apply different laws or standards to similar cases. This inconsistency undermines the reliability and equity of the legal system, eroding public trust and confidence in its integrity.

Moreover, forum shopping can lead to unfairness for other parties involved in the dispute. By strategically selecting a jurisdiction that is perceived to be more favourable, a litigant may gain an unjust advantage over their opponents, depriving them of a level playing field.

In addition, forum shopping can create inefficiencies within the legal system. Courts may become overwhelmed with cases that could be more suitably handled elsewhere, causing delays in the resolution of disputes and increased costs for all parties involved.

Furthermore, forum shopping can contribute to a jurisdictional 'race to the bottom,' where litigants try to find forums with lax laws or lenient judges, ultimately undermining the integrity of the legal process.

Court Judgments:

  • A well-known example is the 1981 case of 'Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno' in the US Supreme Court, which addressed the concept of forum non conveniens. Although not directly related to forum shopping, the case raised similar concerns regarding the selection of the most suitable forum for a legal dispute.

The legal principle of forum non conveniens permits a court to determine that another court may be more suitable for adjudicating a case. This is typically employed when a court determines that it is not the most suitable jurisdiction to handle a lawsuit based on factors such as the location of the events, evidence, and witnesses, as well as the applicable laws. Therefore, the case may be transferred to a more convenient or appropriate court.

  • In the case of Vijay Kumar Ghai v. State of West Bengal (2022), the Supreme Court denounced forum shopping as an unethical behaviour of the courts that is not supported or condoned by the law.
  • In the case of Union of India & Ors v. Cipla Ltd (2017), the Supreme Court established a 'Functional test' to be used in situations of forum shopping. This test was designed to assess whether a party is sincerely seeking justice or simply trying to manipulate the system through forum shopping.
  • In the case of Chetak Construction Ltd. v. Om Prakash (1988), the Supreme Court highlighted the importance of preventing litigants from selecting a court for their own convenience. The court firmly stated that any efforts to engage in forum shopping must be strongly discouraged.
  • In the case of Kamini Jaiswal v. Union of India 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals with dishonest intentions are constantly seeking out a specific court or platform, but are prohibited from doing so by law.
Forum shopping is a common tactic utilized by plaintiffs to secure the most advantageous legal jurisdiction, for which they rely on their legal counsel for guidance in exploiting their legal benefits. Nevertheless, there is ongoing discussion surrounding the extent to which forum shopping should be allowed. Some argue for stricter regulations to prevent potential exploitation, while others advocate for broader freedom for litigants within the current legal parameters. Ultimately, the crucial aspect is determining and upholding legal boundaries to strike a balance between litigants' autonomy and the integrity of the legal system.

Overall, forum shopping is a complex legal strategy that requires careful consideration of various factors, including legal principles, judicial preferences, and procedural rules. While it can provide litigants with strategic advantages, it also raises concerns about fairness, consistency, and the integrity of the legal system. Efforts to address forum shopping often involve reforms to jurisdictional rules, increased judicial cooperation, and the promotion of transparency in the legal process.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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