Res Judicata

Res Judicata


This article is about Res Judicata under Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code.

Brief history and origin of Res Judicata

The concept of res judicata has evolved from the English Common Law System. The Common Law system has been derived from the overriding concept of judicial consistency. Res judicata took its place first in the Code of Civil Procedure from Common Law and then into the Indian Legal System. If either of the parties in a case approaches the same court for the judgment of the same issue then the suit will be struck by the doctrine of res judicata. Res judicata plays a role in administrative law as well. It helps to administer how efficiently the Judiciary works and disposes of the case. The doctrine of res judicata becomes applicable where there is more than one petition filed in the same or in some other court of India with the same parties and same facts. The parties involved in a case may file the same suit again just to harass the reputation of the opposite party and may do to get compensation twice. So to prevent such overloads and extra cases, the doctrine of res judicata plays a major role and importance in the Code of Civil Procedure.

Earlier res judicata was termed as Purva Nyaya or former judgment by the Hindu lawyers and Muslim jurists according to ancient Hindu Law. The countries of the Commonwealth and the European Continent have accepted that once the matter has been brought to trial once, it must not be tried again. The principle of res judicata is originated from the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It addresses the finality of judgments in a civil jury trial. Once a court has rendered a verdict in a civil trial, it cannot be changed by another court except there are very specific conditions.

Res Judicata meaning

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.

Res Judicata example

  • ‘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 issue preclusion it prohibits the relitigation of 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 Abbas v. State of Uttar Pradesh. I  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.


The principle of res judicata is founded upon the principles of justice, equity, and good conscience and it applies to various civil suits and criminal proceedings. The purpose of this principle was to inculcate finality into litigation.

Failure to Apply

When a  court fails to apply Res Judicata and renders a divergent verdict on the same claim or issue and if the third court faces the same issue, it will apply a “last in time” rule. It gives effect to the later judgment and it does not matter about the result that came differently in the second time. This situation is typically the responsibility of the parties to the suit to bring the earlier case to the judge’s attention, and the judge must decide how to apply it, whether to recognize it in the first place.

Doctrine of Res Judicata

The double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from being put on a second trial after the case has been judged. So the doctrine of res judicata addresses this issue and it bars any party to retry a judgment once it has been decided.

Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Court incorporates the doctrine of res judicata also known as “ rule of conclusiveness of judgment”. The doctrine of res judicata has been explained in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi. The judgment of the court was delivered by Das Gupta, J. An appeal was made by landlords who attained a decree for ejectment against the tenants who were Deorajin Debi and her minor son. However, they have not been yet able to get possession in execution soon after the decree was made. An application was made by the tenant under Section 28 of the Calcutta Thika Tenancy Act and alleged that they were the Thika tenants. This application was resisted by the landlords saying they were not Thika Tenants within the meaning of the Act.

The tenants moved to the High Court of Calcutta under the Civil Procedure Code. The court applied the principle of res judicata to achieve the finality in litigation. The result came that the original court, as well as the higher court, can proceed for any future litigation on the basis that the previous decision was correct.

The doctrine of res judicata says –

  • That no person should be disputed twice for the same reason.
  • It is the State that decides there should be an end to a litigation
  • A judicial decision must be accepted as the correct decision.

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. Nawab Hussain, 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.

Res Judicata and Estoppel

Estoppel means the principle which prevents a person from asserting something that is contrary to what is implied by a previous action. It deals in Section 115 to Section 117 of the Indian Evidence act. The rule of constructive res judicata is the rule of estoppel. In some areas the doctrine of res judicata differs from the doctrine of estoppel –

  • Estoppel flows from the act of parties whereas res judicata is the result of the decision of the court.
  • Estoppel proceeds upon the doctrine of equity, a person has induced another to alter his position to his disadvantage can not turn around and take advantage of such alteration. In other words, res judicata bars multiplicity of suits and estoppel precludes multiplicity of representation of cases.
  • Estoppel is a rule of evidence and is enough for the party whereas res judicata expels the jurisdiction of a court to try a case and prevents an enquiry at the threshold (in limine).
  • Res judicata forbidden a person averring the same thing twice in the litigations and estoppel prevents the person from saying two opposite things at a time.
  • According to the principle of res judicata, it presumes the truth of decision in the former suit while the rule of estoppel precludes the party ton deny what he or she has once called truth.

Res Judicata landmark case

Brobston v. Darby Borough 

In the case of Brobston v. Darby Borough,  Brobston was the plaintiff who was injured while driving a vehicle on a public highway in the Borough of Darby. Due to a transit company that was occupying the street, the steering wheel of the machine operating pulled by the driver’s hand. This resulted in injury to the complainant. A suit was filed against the street railway in the Court of Philadelphia to recover damages. It was proved that negligence was there on the part of both the parties also known as contributory negligence. The judgment was passed in favour of the defendant. Later action was again brought against the same defendant based on the same cause of action and against the same transit company. The judgment in the first proceeding was brought to the attention of the court. The plaintiff admitted that Brobston was the same person who was the plaintiff in the action brought earlier in Philadelphia.

The action was brought for injuries occurring at the same place and the verdict of the court was in favour of the defendant. The facts and cause of action were the same but the only difference was the name of the defendant. The legal question involved was what are the rights of the plaintiff in this case. The court refused the facts which were proven by the counsel. Hence a nonsuit was entered because of the earlier judgment. The plaintiff should have been permitted to call the witness but no merit was seen.

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