Short form Bill of Lading

One of the earliest of the data aligned documents to appear was the short form bill of lading. First introduced in Sweden, it is now widely used, and a common form was produced by the General Council of British Shipping in 1979.

The object of the exercise was to simplify documentation and increase the speed of production by reducing the amount of information on the bill. This result was achieved by removing the printed terms of the contract of carriage from the reverse of the bill and substituting a straightforward clause incorporating the carrier’s standard terms and conditions.

Short form bill of lading can be produced either in a proprietary form with the carrier’s name printed at the head, or in a common form in which the name of the selected carrier is inserted in the bill by the shipper. The latter type has considerable advantages since it is available for universal use and dispenses with the need for the shipper to carry separate stocks of bills appropriate to each individual carrier.

The most important characteristic of the short form bill of lading is that it possesses all the qualities of the standard long form in that it acts as a receipt, provides evidence of the contract of carriage, and constitutes a transferable document of title enabling the holder to sell the goods in transit or pledge them with a bank. It is thus available as a direct substitute for the long form bill in any context and has received the final accolade by being recognized as acceptable in the banking world as security for documentary credits.

Like the long form bill of lading, short form bill of lading will be subject to the Hague- Visby Rules where applicable in the United Kingdom. The main problem associated with the short form bill is the effectiveness of the incorporation clause in different jurisdictions. There would appear to be little doubt as to its validity in the common law world, since it would comply with all the requirements of the doctrine of notice developed in the series of ticket cases.

On the other hand, there may be more doubt as to the reaction of courts in civil law jurisdictions, particularly if a copy of the carrier’s standard terms is not readily available. Similarly, the courts may be more sympathetically disposed towards the assignee of a short form bill who may be prejudiced by lack of access to a copy of the standard terms, in contrast to the shipper who will no doubt have a copy in his office. For this reason some shippers feel safer to type the crucial provisions of the contract on the short form, thus to some extent defeating the object of the exercise. Such terms include jurisdiction and choice of law clauses which has crucial importance to the consignee, arbitration clauses and clauses expressly incorporating the Hague-Visby Rules.

It must also be remembered that the short form bill of lading is basically a received for carriage document, whereas banks providing for documentary credits normally call for a shipped bill of lading. While facilities exist for adding a shipped notation, the delay involved will naturally defeat the time-saving objective.