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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Email & Informal agreement is valid, even an Arbitration can be enforced-Supreme Court on Trimex case - Formalty not required under Contract Act

The Indian Contract Act, 1872: ss.4, 7 – Concluded contract containing arbitration clause - Valid

The  Hon’ble Supreme Court (SC) in a recent judgment in the case of “Trimex International FZE Limited, Dubai vs. Vedanta Aluminium Limited, India” in Re (2010) 3 SCC 1”. It was held that in the absence of signed agreement between the parties, it would be possible to infer from   various documents duly approved and signed by the parties in the form of exchange of emails, letter, telex, telegram and other means of communication. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has accepted the unconditional acceptance through emails and held the same to be a valid contract which satisfies the requirements of Section 4 and 7 of the Contract Act 1872 and further it satisfies Section 2(1)(b), 7 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996.  In the absence of a signed agreement inference can be from documents approved and signed by the parties in the form of exchange emails, letters, telegrams which come within Section 10 and 2(e) of the Contract Act 1972.

As per Section 4: The communication of a proposal is complete when it becomes to the knowledge of the person to whom it is made.

As per Section 7: In order to convert a proposal into a promise the acceptance must - be absolute and unqualified; and be expressed in some usual and reasonable manner, unless the proposal prescribes the manner in which it is to be accepted.

If respondent accepts the offer of petitioner following a very strict time schedule, he cannot escape from the obligations that flowed from such an action -

  • Arbitration clause can be inferred from various documents duly approved and signed by the parties in the form of exchange of e-mails, letter, telex, telegrams and other means of tele-communication even in the absence of signed agreement -
  • If no inference can be drawn from the facts that the parties intended to be bound only when a formal agreement had been executed, the validity of the agreement would not be affected by its lack of formality -
  • On facts, the Commercial Offer carried no clause making the conclusion of the contract incumbent upon the Purchase Order -Therefore, the moment commercial offer was accepted by the respondent, the contract came into existence - Since the contract contained arbitration clause, petitioner made out case for appointment of arbitrator - Arbitration.

Petitioner's case was that on 15.10.2007, it submitted a commercial offer through e-mail for supply of Bauxite to the respondent. After exchange of several e-mails, respondent conveyed acceptance of offer through e-mail on 16.10.2007 confirming the supply of 5 shipments of Bauxite. Dispute arose and petitioner served arbitration notice on the respondent. Respondent rejected the arbitration notice stating that there was no concluded contract between them. Petitioner filed arbitration petition for appointment of arbitrator.

Click here to download the Supreme Court Judgment 2010 on Trimex case.

Thus, Once a contract is concluded orally or in writing, the mere fact that a formal contract has to be prepared and initialed by the parties would not affect either the acceptance of the contract so entered into or implementation thereof, even if the formal contract has never been initialed. The Court reiterated its stand that one of the main objectives of the Act is to
minimize the supervisory role of the courts. In holding this, the Court observed that if a number of extra requirements such as seals and originals, stamps etc. are added in considering an arbitration agreement, it would amount to increasing the role of courts and not minimizing it. Relying upon UNCITRAL Model Law, the Court concluded it would be improper and undesirable for the courts to add a number of extra formalities not envisaged
by the legislation. The court’s objective should be to achieve the legislative intent.  Accordingly, the Court held in favor of the Petitioner and appointed a former judge to arbitrate the matter.  Thus, no more stamp papers & its execution of contracts just for the purpose of enforceability!!!

Keep contractin…


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