Inter Ikea Systems BV v. Quess Corp Ltd
Date of Order:
19th October 2023
Hon’ble Mrs. Justice Pratibha M. Singh
Petitioner(s) / Plaintiff(s): M/S Inter Ikea Systems BV
Respondent(s) / Defendant(s): M/S Quess Corp Ltd
The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi (hereinafter referred to as ‘the High Court’ or ‘the Court’) addressed the concerns over the late submission of documents and cross-examination of overseas witnesses in the dispute initiated by Inter Ikea Systems bv. The Court lay emphasis on adherence to the Commercial Courts Act principles despite the case not falling under its jurisdiction, providing directives for expedited resolution and distributing guidelines among judges.
The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC):
- Order VIII Rule 1A
- Order 39
The Commercial Courts Act, 2015 (the Act)
- Two cross-petitions were filed under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, challenging the Additional District Judge’s order, where the respondent’s request to include was partially allowed.
- The Plaintiff (IKEA (Petitioner)) had filed a lawsuit before the Additional District Judge seeking a permanent injunction to stop the Defendant (Quess Corp.) from using the mark ‘IKYA, as the plaintiff claimed the ownership of the trademark ‘IKEA.
- The injunction, however, was later lifted and the case was reconsidered after an appeal where the decision to lift the temporary injunction was confirmed.
- The Plaintiff then challenged the decision in another appeal, and the Court set trial on 8th August 2017.
- In the aforementioned order, a Local Commissioner was appointed to record evidence.
- The order specified that issues were to be framed within four weeks, parties were limited to 3 opportunities to present their evidence, and the final hearing was to be completed within three months after recording the evidence.
- Despite the instructions from the appellate court, the suit’s progress deviated from the plan and the issues were framed later on October 30th, 2017.
- The Plaintiff’s first witness provided evidence and underwent cross-examination twice, facing more than 125 questions. This witness then left the Plaintiff’s employment, leading to their replacement by an overseas witness.
- The overseas witness traveled to India thrice for evidence recording on seven separate days, facing over 250 questions. The evidence of the overseas witness was finally concluded on October 20th, 2022.
- Following the conclusion of the witness's evidence, the defendant filed an application to purposely delay the trial which had been ongoing for 13 years.
- This case is now being considered in the High Court.
- Whether public documents can be denied?
- Whether summoning an overseas or outstation witness multiple times justified?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER:
- The portion of documents being presented pertained to a period preceding the submission of the written statement and are largely public documents.
- Permitting belated submission of such an extensive set of documents without discernment should be disallowed.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:
- Documents in question relate mostly to the period following the submission of the written statement and framing and are predominantly public records.
- Documents should be entirely accepted.
- Upon hearing the arguments, the Court opined that the procedural delays in this case highlight the very issues that the Commercial Courts Act aims to resolve.
- The case, however, is not governed by the Commercial Courts Act of 2015, as it was filed in 2012 and is being heard by the Additional District Judge, who is not designated as a Commercial Court.
- Consequently, the unamended CPC applies to this dispute. Specifically, Order VIII Rule 1A.
- For any belated filing, leave of the Court is required before the document is taken on record. In the case of Sugandhi v. P. Rajkumar, the Supreme Court held that leave can be granted on good cause for non-production being shown by the plaintiff.
- The Court perused that the list of documents sought to be filed by the defendant were merely annual reports and there was no reason why those could not have been filed by the defendant prior to the framing of issues when the Learned Single Judge had put the suit on fast-track trial.
- The Court found no justifiable reason to allow the inclusion of such a substantial number of documents after the plaintiff had concluded presenting their evidence, as no reasonable cause had been provided for the belated submission.
- The Court identified two significant issues during the trial. The first issue pertaining to the refusal of public documents which often leads to the summoning of the officials and production of certified copies or other records.
- The second issue pertained to the cross-examination of witnesses, particularly those who are located out of the city or overseas. In the context of Commercial suits, commercial courts are empowered to set time limits for cross-examination to prevent undue inconvenience to witnesses.
- The case was scheduled to be heard on 6th November, 2023 and all petitions, along with any pending applications were resolved according to the given instructions.
The High Court in this case issued directions to address procedural delays and unjustified document refusals. The court expressed concerns over the late submission of over 2300 pages of documents by the respondents, emphasizing that blanket denials of publicly accessible documents should not be allowed. Furthermore, the Court tackled the issues concerning the cross-examination of witnesses located outside the jurisdiction and overseas in commercial suits. It proposed the implementation of time limits and the option of video conferencing in cases where legitimate reasons hinder the witnesses from travelling. The judgment further instructed that the directions be circulated among District Judges and Commercial Court judges for adherence. The petitions along with all pending applications were disposed of.