Legal Dictionary

forum non conveniens

Definition of forum non conveniens

Noun

forum non conveniens (uncountable)

  1. (law) A doctrine of law holding that a court should decline to hear a case if another court would provide a more convenient forum for the parties and evidence.

Further reading

Forum non conveniens (Latin for "forum not agreeing") (FNC) is a (mostly) common law legal doctrine whereby courts may refuse to take jurisdiction over matters where there is a more appropriate forum available to the parties. As a doctrine of the conflict of laws, forum non conveniens applies between courts in different countries and between courts in different jurisdictions in the same country.

A concern often raised in applications of the doctrine is forum shopping, or picking a court merely to gain an advantage in the proceeding. This concern is balanced against the public policy of deferring to a plaintiff's choice of venue in claims where there may be more than one appropriate jurisdiction. The underlying principles, such as basing respect given to foreign courts on reciprocal respect or comity, also apply in civil law systems in the form of the legal doctrine of lis alibi pendens.

Forum non conveniens is not exclusive to common law nations: the maritime courts of the Republic of Panama, although not a common law jurisdiction, also have such power under more restrained conditions.

Explanation

A country, state, or other jurisdiction enacts laws which are interpreted and applied through a system of courts. The laws applied by a particular system of courts or legal system are termed the lex fori, or law of the forum. As a matter of civil procedure, courts must decide whether and in what circumstances they will accept jurisdiction over parties and subject matter when a lawsuit begins. This decision will be routine, or not raised at all, if the relevant elements of the case are within the territorial jurisdiction of the court. If one or more of the parties resides outside the territorial jurisdiction or there are other factors which might make another forum more appropriate, the question of jurisdiction must be settled.

United Kingdom

The doctrine has limited application in most civil law jurisdictions which prefer lis alibi pendens, although the principle behind FNC is acknowledged. As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom signed the Brussels Convention. The Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act (1982) as amended by the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act (1991)) states:

    "Nothing in this Act shall prevent any court in the UK from staying, sisting [staying or stopping a process, or summoning a party], striking out or dismissing any proceedings before it on the ground of forum non conveniens or otherwise, where to do so is not inconsistent with the 1968 [Brussels] Convention or, as the case may be, the Lugano Convention."

The case of Owusu v Jackson and Others before the European Court of Justice, was concerned with the relationship between Article 2 of the Brussels Convention and the scope of FNC within the European Community. In Owusu, the English Court of Appeal asked the ECJ whether it could stay a matter brought to it under Article 2 Brussels Convention pursuant to the English FNC rules. The Court held that the Brussels Convention was a mandatory set of rules designed to harmonise and so produce a predictable system throughout the EU. If states were able to derogate from the Convention using their domestic rules of civil procedure, this would deny a uniform result to proceedings based on forum selection. Hence, at 46. the ECJ held:

    the Brussels Convention precludes a court of a Contracting State from declining the jurisdiction conferred on it by Article 2 of that convention on the ground that a court of a non-Contracting State would be a more appropriate forum for the trial of the action even if the jurisdiction of no other Contracting State is in issue or the proceedings have no connecting factors to any other Contracting State.

However, some UK commentators argue that the FNC rules may still apply to cases where the other proceedings are not in a Member state but this remains uncertain. What is certain is that a Scottish Court may sist its proceedings in favour of the Courts of England or Northern Ireland on the ground of FNC, since this is settling intra-UK jurisdiction.

United States

The defendant may move to dismiss an action on the ground of FNC. Invoking this doctrine usually means that the plaintiff properly invoked the jurisdiction of the court, but it is inconvenient for the court and the defendant to have a trial in the original jurisdiction. The court must balance convenience against the plaintiff's choice of forum. In other words, if the plaintiff's choice of forum was reasonable, the defendant must show a compelling reason to change jurisdiction. If a transfer would simply shift the inconvenience from one party to the other, the plaintiff's choice of forum should not be disturbed.

Generally, a corporation sued in the jurisdiction of its headquarters is not entitled to seek an FNC dismissal. Thus if an American corporation is sued in an area where it only transacts business but not where it has its headquarters, and the court dismisses based upon FNC, the plaintiff may refile the action in the jurisdiction of the corporation's headquarters.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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