Res judicata


In the common law, several principles have been laid down which formed the foundation of the present legal system in India. The purpose of such doctrines is to assess the Judicial Efficiency and ensure that the productive pace of getting justice in the court is achieved and maintained. Two of these principles are discussed in this article, namely, the Doctrine of Res Sub Judice and Res Judicata.

In Latin, Res Judicata means a matter that has been judged. When a case has already been decided and the final judgment has been given such that the matter is no longer subject to appeal, the doctrine of res judicata bars or precludes continued litigation of such matter between the same parties.

On the other hand, Sub Judice means ‘under judgment’. It implies that a matter is being considered by the court or judge. In a scenario when two or more cases are filed between the same parties on the same subject matter, the competent court has the power to stay proceedings. So, the doctrine of Res Sub Judice means a stay of the suit.

To ensure that the courts’ time is effectively used as well as justice for all is obtained, these doctrines play an important role. They do this by ensuring that a suit ends after the judgment is passed and that the same suit on the same subject matter is not filed multiple times. This ensures the smooth functioning of the judiciary.

Res Judicata

In the case of Res Judicata, a matter once decided cannot be raised again, either in the same court or in a different court. This is why it is also called ‘claim preclusion’ as it precludes or prohibits any further claims after the final judgment. It is a common-law practice meant to bar re-litigation of cases between the same parties in the court.

The doctrine of Res Judicata comes from the full maxim ‘Res judicata pro veritate accipitur’. The concept of Res Judicata evolved from the English Common Law system and was derived from the overriding concept of judicial economy, consistency, and finality. From the common law, it got included in the Code of Civil Procedure, which was later as a whole was adopted by the Indian legal system.

Purpose of Res judicata

Res Judicata aims to prevent;

  1. Injustice to the parties of a case that has been supposedly concluded by providing closure to a judgment and precluding any further claims
  2. Unnecessary waste of court resources
  3. Multiplying of judgments as further claims would lead to several varied judgments on the same matter which will lead to confusion
  4. Recovery of damages from the defendant twice for the same injury

Res judicata includes

  • Claim preclusion: it focuses on barring a suit from being brought again on a legal cause of action, that has already been, finally decided between the parties.                    
  • Issue preclusion: bars the re-litigation of factual issues that have already been necessarily determined by a judge as part of an earlier claim.

Though it must be noted that, this doesn’t include the process of appeal, as an appeal is considered the appropriate way to challenge a judgment. Once the appeal process is exhausted or barred by limitation, the res judicata will apply to the decision.

The doctrine of res judicata or rule of conclusive judgment is based on the following three maxims:

  1. Nemo debit lis vexari pro eadem causa– no man to be vexed twice for the same cause.
  2. Interest republicae ut sit finis litium– it is in the interest of the state that there should be end to litigation.
  3. Re judicata pro veritate occipitur– a judicial decision should be accepted as correct.

In the case of Ashok Kumar v National Insurance Company 1998, the Supreme Court observed that the first legal maxim takes care of the private interest and the next two of the larger interest of the society.

Res Judicata under Indian law

Res judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of the judgment has been embodied in the Indian law under Section 11 of the code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It enacts that once a matter is finally decided by a competent Court, no party can be permitted to reopen it in a subsequent litigation. Section 11 states that;

“No Court shall try any suit or issue in which the matter directly and substantially in issue has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit between the same parties, or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, in a Court competent to try such subsequent suit or the suit in which such issue has been subsequently raised, and has been heard and finally decided by such Court.”

In the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi, Hon’ble Justice Das Gupta explained the doctrine of Res Judicata as;

“The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to judicial decisions. What it says is that once a res is judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. Primarily it applies between past litigation and future litigation. When a matter, whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has been decided between two parties in one suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken to a higher Court or because the appeal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter again.”

Ingredients and essentials of section 11

  • According to this section, no court shall try any suit or issue in which:
    1. The matter in issue (directly and substantially)has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit
    2. Such matter in the former suit had been between the same parties or between parties claiming  under them
    3. The matter must be litigated under the same title in a court competent to try such suit or a suit in which the matter has been subsequently raised and has been heard and finally decided by such court
  • Mandatory Provision:
    1. Further, it must be noted that Section 11 is a mandatory provision and not a directory in nature. The only exception in which a former suit can be avoided is by taking recourse to Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 on grounds of fraud or collusion.
    2. The same was discussed in the case of  Beli Ram and Brothers v Chaudri Mohammad Afzal, where the court held that when it was established that the guardian of the minor had acted in collusion with the defendant, it doesn’t operate as res judicata and can be set aside by invoking Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act.
    3. Further, in the case of Jallur Venkata Seshayya v. Tahdaviconda Koteswara Rao, 1937 the court held that gross negligence in former suit doesn’t amount to fraud or collusion and thus acts as a bar to subsequent suit.
  • The following are also to be taken into account:
    1. A former suit denotes a suit that has been decided before the suit in question, and not if it was before this suit. i.e. The cut-off is the date of judgment and not the date of institution of the suit.
    2. competency of a court is to be decided, irrespective of the right to appeal from a former suit.
    3. the matter referred to in this suit must have been alleged by one party and either accepted or refused by the other party (expressly/impliedly).
    4. any matter which might or ought to have been made a ground of attack/defense in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit (constructive res judicata).
    5. if any relief was claimed in the plaint and was not granted expressly, it would be deemed to have been refused in such a former suit.
    6. when persons litigate bonafide in respect of a public/private right claimed in common for themselves and others, all persons interested for section 11, will be deemed as claiming under persons litigating,
    7. it is also to be remembered that, a court of limited jurisdiction where the former suit was instituted and decided upon, shall operate as res judicata, even if the court of limited jurisdiction is not competent to try the subsequent suit.
    8. this section 11 applies to execution proceedings also.

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