Spiliada Maritime Corporation v Cansulex Ltd

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeLord Keith of Kinkel,Lord Templeman,Lord Griffiths,Lord Mackay of Clashfern,Lord Goff of Chieveley
Judgment Date19 November 1986
Date19 November 1986

[1986] UKHL J1119-1

House of Lords

Lord Keith of Kinkel

Lord Templeman

Lord Griffiths

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Lord Goff of Chieveley

Spiliada Maritime Corporation
Cansulex Limited
Lord Keith of Kinkel

My Lords,


I have had the benefit of reading in draft the speech to be delivered by my noble and learned friend Lord Goff of Chieveley. I agree with it and for the reasons he gives would allow the appeal and restore the order of Staughton J.

Lord Templeman

My Lords,


In these proceedings parties to a dispute have chosen to litigate in order to determine where they shall litigate. The principles which the courts of this country should apply are comprehensibly reviewed and closely analysed in the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Goff of Chieveley. Where the plaintiff is entitled to commence his action in this country, the court, applying the doctrine of forum non conveniens will only stay the action if the defendant satisfies the court that some other forum is more appropriate. Where the plaintiff can only commence his action with leave, the court, applying the doctrine of forum conveniens will only grant leave if the plaintiff satisfies the court that England is the most appropriate forum to try the action. But whatever reasons may be advanced in favour of a foreign forum, the plaintiff will be allowed to pursue an action which the English court has jurisdiction to entertain if it would be unjust to the plaintiff to confine him to remedies elsewhere.


In the present case, a vessel managed partly in Greece and partly in England, flying the flag of Liberia and owned by a Liberian corporation is said to have been damaged by a cargo loaded by a British Columbia shipper and carried from Vancouver to India. Both sets of insurers are English. Similar litigation took place in Canada concerning the vessel Roseline. Similar litigation took place in England over another vessel, the Cambridgeshire, after Staughton J. had refused to stay the action. If Staughton J. had good reason to try the Cambridgeshire, it is difficult to see that he had bad reason for trying the Spiliada.


The factors which the court is entitled to take into account in considering whether one forum is more appropriate are legion. The authorities do not, perhaps cannot, give any clear guidance as to how these factors are to be weighed in any particular case. Any dispute over the appropriate forum is complicated by the fact that each party is seeking an advantage and may be influenced by considerations which are not apparent to the judge or considerations which are not relevant for his purpose. In the present case, for example, it is reasonably clear that Cansulex prefer the outcome of the Roseline proceedings in Canada to the outcome of the Cambridgeshire proceedings in England and prefer the limitation period in British Columbia to the limitation period in England. The shipowners and their insurers hold other views. There may be other matters which naturally and inevitably help to produce in a good many cases conflicting evidence and optimistic and gloomy assessments of expense, delay and inconvenience. Domicile and residence and place of incident are not always decisive.


In the result, it seems to me that the solution of disputes about the relative merits of trial in England and trial abroad is pre-eminently a matter for the trial judge. Commercial court judges are very experienced in these matters. In nearly every case evidence is on affidavit by witnesses of acknowledged probity. I hope that in future the judge will be allowed to study the evidence and refresh his memory of the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Goff of Chieveley in this case in the quiet of his room without expense to the parties; that he will not be referred to other decisions on other facts; and that submissions will be measured in hours and not days. An appeal should be rare and the appellate court should be slow to interfere. I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Goff of Chieveley that there were no grounds for interference in the present case and that the appeal should be allowed.

Lord Griffiths

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speeches prepared by my noble and learned friends, Lord Templeman and Lord Goff of Chieveley. For the reasons they give I would allow the appeal.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speeches prepared by my noble and learned friends. Lord Templeman and Lord Goff of Chieveley. I agree with them and for the reasons which they give I would allow the appeal.

Lord Goff of Chieveley

My Lords,


There is before your Lordships an appeal, brought by leave of your Lordships' House, against a decision of the Court of Appeal (Oliver and Neill, L.JJ.) whereby they reversed a decision of Staughton J. in which he refused an application by the respondents, Cansulex Ltd., to set aside leave granted ex parte to the appellants, Spiliada Maritime Corporation, to serve proceedings on the respondents outside the jurisdiction. The effect of the decision of the Court of Appeal was, therefore, to set aside the leave so granted and the proceedings served on the respondents pursuant to that leave.


(1) The facts of the case


As this appeal is concerned with an interlocutory application, I must, like the courts below, take the facts from the affidavit evidence filed on behalf of the parties. The appellants (whom I shall refer to as "the shipowners") claim to be (and can, for the purposes of this appeal, be accepted as being) the owners of a bulk carrier, of about 20,000 tonnes deadweight, called " Spiliada." The shipowners are a Liberian Corporation, and their vessel flies the Liberian flag; but their managers are in Greece, though some part of the management takes place in England. The respondents (whom I shall refer to as "Cansulex") carry on business in British Columbia as exporters of sulphur. The shipowners chartered their vessel to an Indian company called Minerals & Metals Trading Corporation of India Ltd. (whom I shall refer to as "M.M.T.C.") under a voyage charter dated 6 November 1980, for the carriage of a cargo of sulphur from Vancouver to Indian ports. The charterparty contained a London arbitration clause. Pursuant to that charterparty, the vessel proceeded to Vancouver and there loaded a cargo of sulphur between 18 and 25 November 1980. The sulphur was loaded on board the vessel by order of Cansulex, who were f.o.b. sellers of the sulphur to M.M.T.C. Bills of lading were then issued to, and accepted by, Cansulex. The bills were shipped bills, Cansulex being named as shippers in the bills. Clause 21 on the reverse of the bills of lading provided that, subject to certain clauses which are for present purposes immaterial, the bills of lading "no matter where issued, shall be construed and governed by English law, and as if the vessel sailed under the British Flag." The bills were signed by agents for and by authority of the Master. The cargo was discharged at ports in India between 29 December 1980 and 6 February 1981.


It has been alleged by the shipowners that the cargo of sulphur so loaded on the vessel was wet when loaded and as a result caused severe corrosion and pitting to the holds and tank tops of the vessel. The shipowners have claimed damages from Cansulex in respect of the damage so caused. The shipowners rely upon the age of the ship at the time of the voyage (she was then three years old) and the condition of the holds before and after the voyage. The shipowners have advanced their claim against Cansulex as shippers under the contract of carriage contained in or evidenced by the bills of lading to which I have already referred, basing their claim on Article 4, Rule 6, of the Hague Rules incorporated into the bills, and on a warranty implied by English law that dangerous cargo will not be shipped without warning. Arbitration proceedings have also been commenced by the shipowners against M.M.T.C. in London under the arbitration clause in the voyage charter. It is open to M.M.T.C. to bring arbitration proceedings in London against Cansulex under the sale contract between them, by virtue of the London arbitration clause in that contract. Leave was obtained by the shipowners to issue and serve a writ upon Cansulex outside the jurisdiction on a ground contained in the then R.S.C., Ord. 11, r. 1(1)( f)(iii), viz. that the action was brought to recover damages in respect of breach of a contract which was by its terms governed by English law.


Cansulex then applied for an order to set aside such leave and all subsequent proceedings. The application came before Staughton J. on 26 October 1984. The hearing of the application took place while there was proceeding before Staughton J. a very similar action, in which Cansulex were also defendants. That action concerned a ship called the Cambridgeshire, owned by an English company, Bibby Bulk Carriers Ltd. In it, the owners claimed damages for damage alleged to have been caused to their vessel by a cargo of sulphur loaded on her at Vancouver in November and December 1980, for carriage to South Africa and Mozambique. The defendants in the action were the charterers of the ship, Cobelfret NV, and three shippers — Cansulex, Petrosul International Ltd., and Canadian Superior Oil Ltd. In that action, Cansulex (supported by Petrosul International Ltd., another Canadian company) who had been served with proceedings outside the jurisdiction on the same ground as in the present case, applied in September 1982 for the leave to serve proceedings upon them outside the jurisdiction, and all subsequent proceedings, to be set aside. Staughton J. heard that application and dismissed it, holding that there was a good arguable case that the Canadian companies were parties to a contract governed by English law, and...

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