Introduction to Doctrine of Res Judicata By Diksha Dubey @Lexcliq


Res means “subject matter” and judicata means “adjudged” or decided and together it means “a matter adjudged”.

In simpler words, the thing has been judged by the court, the issue before a court has already been decided by another court and between the same parties. Hence, the court will dismiss the case as it has been decided by another court. Res judicata applies to both civil and criminal legal systems. No suit which has been directly or indirectly tried in a former suit can be tried again.


‘A’ sued ‘B’ as he didn’t pay rent. ‘B’ pleaded for the lessening of rent on the ground as the area of the land was less than the mentioned on the lease. The Court found that the area was greater than shown in the lease. The area was excess and the principles of res judicata will not be applied.

In a case, ‘A’ new lawsuit was filed in which the defendants requested that the Court dismiss the lawsuit with a plea of res judicata. She was barred from bringing a claim of res judicata because her previous claim was dismissed for fraud. The Court said that the defence of res judicata must be proved by evidence.

Principle of Res Judicata

The principle of res judicata seeks to promote the fair administration of justice and honesty and to prevent the law from abuse. The principle of res judicata applies when a litigant attempts to file a subsequent lawsuit on the same matter, after having received a judgment in a previous case involving the same parties. In many jurisdictions, this applies not only to the specific claims made in the first case but also to claims that could have been made during the same case.

Pre-requisites for Res Judicata

Prerequisites of res judicata includes:

  • A judicial decision by proficient court or tribunal,
  • Final and binding and
  • Any decision made on the merits
  • A fair hearing
  • Earlier decision right or wrong is not relevant.

Nature and Scope of Res Judicata

Res judicata includes two concepts of claim preclusion and issue preclusion. Issue preclusion is also known as collateral estoppel. Parties cannot sue each other again after the final judgment on the basis of merits has reached in civil litigation. For example, if a plaintiff wins or loses a case against the defendant in the case say A, he cannot probably sue the defendant again in case B based on the same facts and events. Not even in a different court with the same facts and events. Whereas in the issues preclusion prohibits the re-litigation of the issues of law that have already been determined by the judge as part of an earlier case.

The scope has been decided in the case of Gulam Abbasv. State of Uttar Pradesh. In this case the court incorporated the rules as evidence as a plea of an issue already tries in an earlier case. Judgment of this case was difficult as the judges should apply res judicata. It was decided that res judicata is not exhaustive and even if the matter is not directly covered under the provisions of the section it will be considered as a case of res judicata on general principles.

Constructive Res Judicata

The rule of constructive res judicata in Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code is an artificial form of res judicata. It provides that if a plea has been taken by a party in a proceeding between him and the defendant he will not be permitted to take pleas against the same party in the following proceeding with reference to the same matter.  It is opposed to public policies on which the principle of res judicata is based. It would mean harassment and hardship to the defendant. The rule of constructive res judicata helps in raising the bar. Hence this rule is known as the rule of constructive res judicata which in reality is an aspect of augmentation of the general principles of res judicata.

In the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v.  M was a sub-inspector and was dismissed from the service of D.I.G. he challenged the order of dismissal by filing a writ petition in the High Court. He said that he did not get a reasonable opportunity of being heard before the passing of the order. However, the argument was negatived and the petition was dismissed. He again filed a petition on the ground that he was appointed by the I.G.P. and had no power to dismiss him. The defendant argued that the suit was barred by constructive res judicata. However, the trial court, the first appellate court as well as the High Court held that the suit was not barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The Supreme Court held that the suit was barred by constructive res judicata as the plea was within the knowledge of the plaintiff, M and he could have taken this argument in his earlier suit.

Exceptions to res judicata

The principle of res judicata does not apply in the Writ of Habeas Corpus as far as High Courts are concerned. Article 32 gives power to the Supreme Court to issue writs and some power is given to High Courts under Article 226. The Courts need to give proper reasoning while applying the doctrine of res judicata. There are some exceptions to res judicata which allow the party to challenge the validity of the original judgment even outside the appeals. These exceptions are usually known as collateral attacks and are based on jurisdictional issues. It is not based on the wisdom of the earlier decision of the court but the authority to issue it. Res judicata may not be applicable when cases appear that they need re-litigation.

Res Judicata does not restrict the appeals process, which is considered a linear extension of the same lawsuit as the suit travels up (and back down) the appellate court ladder. Appeals are considered the appropriate manner by which to challenge a judgment rather than trying to start a new trial. Once the appeals process is exhausted or waived, Res Judicata will apply even to a judgment that is contrary to law.

There are limited exceptions to Res Judicata that allow a party to attack the validity of the original judgment, even outside of appeals. These exceptions—usually called collateral attacks—are typically based on procedural or jurisdictional issues, based not on the wisdom of the earlier court’s decision but its authority or on the competence of the earlier court to issue that decision. A collateral attack is more likely to be available (and to succeed) in judicial systems with multiple jurisdictions, such as under federal governments, or when a domestic court is asked to enforce or recognize the judgment of a foreign court.

The Doctrine of Res Judicata can be understood as something which restrains the either party to move the clock back during the pendency of the proceedings. The extent of Res Judicata is very-very wide and it includes a lot of things which even includes Public Interest Litigations. This doctrine is applicable even outside the Code of Civil Procedure and covers a lot of areas which are related to the society and people. The scope and the extent have widened with the passage of time and the Supreme Court has elongated the areas with its judgments.

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