This a legal document detailing the type, quantity and destination of goods. “A vital document evidencing the contract of shipment”-Crooks v Allan. Usually written although the court in The Ardennes, noted that oral evidence can be adduced to prove shipment. Note however that oral contracts between the parties are not enforceable against third parties. See Leduc v Ward.
     The BOL is usually issued in (3-6) duplicates. All deemed to be the original.

1.  It is a document of Title: “The transfer of the BOL is deemed symbolic delivery of goods to the buyer”-Sanders v Maclean. The buyer can demand delivery of the goods upon presenting the bill of lading.

2.  Possession of BOL is regarded as possession of goods. Transfer of the goods can generally be effected by transfer of the BOL.

3. It acts as evidence of the contract of shipment/carriage. However, in Smith v Beolouin Steam Navigation it was held that the carrier can still show that the goods were not shipped. When successfully proved, he is exculpated from liability (Grant v Norway). See Sections 3 and 4 of the Bill of Lading Act 1885 which is to the effect that the master of the ship may further exonerate himself by showing that it was without his default.

4.      It is usually in the hands of the shipper.

5.      States the quantity received.

6.      States the condition of the goods: 
            In Compania Naviera Vascongada v Churchill, the court held that carriers were estopped from denying the veracity of the statements (as to the condition of the goods) contained in the bill. In Silver v Ocean Steamship Co, the court noted that an exception is where the defects in the goods would not have been apparent upon diligent and reasonable inspection. See also Sea Success Maritime v African Maritime Carriers.

7.      States the leading marks: 
         In Parsons v New Zealand Shipping Co, frozen lambs, shipped under a bill of lading, stated that 608 carcasses had been shipped bearing the mark 622X. On arrival, endorsees found that 101 of the 608 carcasses carried a different mark, 522X. The endorsees refused to accept delivery of the carcasses bearing 522X. The court held that the marks were necessary for tracing the goods. However, where it is still the same substance corresponding to the description that is shipped, then there may be no need to refuse.

8.      The Bill confers certain rights and Liability: e.g. the right to sue.

9.      The Carrier is only under an obligation to deliver goods against the presentation of the BOL. Where he delivers to a person who doesn’t present the BOL, he would be liable except liability is excluded by agreement or the receiver is entitled to possession of the goods.

Frauds and BOL 
     Since the bills are issued in duplicates what happens when a fraudster obtains a copy of the bill and presents it to receive the goods? In Glyn Mills v East West India Dock Co, the court held that there was no liability for mis-delivery once the BOL was presented. In this case, the warehouseman was not liable since he delivered upon the presentation of the BOL.


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