lawyers in India

Res Judicata in India

Written by: Shashwat Agarwal - Semester V student of Nirma University
Constitutional Lawyers in India
Legal Service
  • Res Judicata is a phrase which has been evolved from a Latin maxim, which stand for ‘the thing has been judged', meaning there by that the issue before the court has already been decided by another court, between the same parties. Therefore, the court will dismiss the case before it as being useless. Res Judicata as a concept is applicable both in case of Civil as well as Criminal legal system.

    The term is also used to mean as to ‘bar re-litigation' of such cases between the same parties, which is different between the two legal systems. Once a final judgment has been announced in a lawsuit, the subsequent judges who are confronted with a suit that is identical to or substantially the same as the earlier one, they would apply the Res Judicata doctrine ‘to preserve the effect of the first judgment'. This is to prevent injustice to the parties of a case supposedly finished, but perhaps mostly to avoid unnecessary waste of resources and time of the Judicial System.

    And, therefore, the same case cannot be taken up again either in the same or in the different Court of India. This is just to prevent them from multiplying judgments, so a prevailing plaintiff may not recover damages from the defendant twice for the same injury.

    For making Res Judicata binding, several factors must be met up with:
    # identity in the thing at suit;
    # identity of the cause at suit;
    # identity of the parties to the action;
    # identity in the designation of the parties involved;
    # whether the judgment was final;
    # whether the parties were given full and fair opportunity to be heard on the issue.

    Regarding designation of the parties involved, a person may be involved in an action while filling a given office and may subsequently initiate the same action in a differing capacity. In that case Res Judicata would not be available as a defense unless the defendant could show that the differing designations were not legitimate and sufficient.

    Therefore, Res Judicata in a nut shell is a judicial concept wherein the Courts do not allow a petition to be filed in the same or to the other Court for the doctrine of Res Judicata would apply and the party would not be allowed to file the petition or to continue the petition (as the case may be).

    The sphere of Res Judicata is ever growing. Although the Civil Procedure does not apply to the proceedings other than suits. Whereas in Administrative Law, the concept of Res Judicata deals only in aspects related to the Writ Proceedings.

    Brief History and Origin of Res Judicata

    "Res judicata pro veritate accipitur" is the full latin maxim which has, over the years, shrunk to mere "Res Judicata" .
    The concept of Res Judicata finds its evolvement from the English Common Law system, being derived from the overriding concept of judicial economy, consistency, and finality . From the common law, it got included in the Code of Civil Procedure and which was later as a whole was adopted by the Indian legal system.

    From the Civil Procedure Code, the Administrative Law witnesses its applicability. Then, slowly but steadily the other acts and statutes also started to admit the concept of Res Judicata within its ambit.

    Res Judicata as a concept under Civil Procedure Code 1908

    The doctrine of Res Judicata in nations that have a civil law legal system is much narrower in scope than in common law nations . According to the dictionary meaning, 'Res Judicata' means a case or suit involving a particular issue between two or more parties already decided by a court. Thereafter, if either of the parties approaches the same court for the adjudication of the same issue, the suit will be struck by the law of 'res judicata'.

    Section 11 of Code of Civil Procedure deals with this concept. It embodies the doctrine of Res Judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of a judgement, as to the points decided either of fact, or of law, or of fact and law, in every subsequent suit between the same parties. 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. In the absence of such a rule there will be no end to litigation and the parties would be put to constant trouble, harassment and expenses.

    The doctrine of Res Judicata is based on three Roman maxims:

    (a) Nemo debet lis vaxari pro eadem causa which means that no man should be vexed (annoyed) twice for the same cause;
    (b) Interest republicae ut sit finis litium meaning thereby that it is in the interest of the state that there should be an end to a litigation; and
    (c) Re judicata pro veritate occipitur which bears the meaning as a judicial decision must be accepted as correct.

    The pre-requisites which are necessary for Res Judicata are:
    1) There must be a final judgment;
    2) The judgment must be on the merits;
    3) The claims must be the same in the first and second suits;
    4) The parties in the second action must be the same as those in the first, or have been
    represented by a party to the prior action.

    The provisions of Section 11 are not at all exhaustive even though it has very wide and enlarged amplitude.

    The section "does not affect the jurisdiction of the Court" but "operates as a par to the trial" of the suit or issue, if the matter in the suit was directly and substantially in issue (and finally decided) in the previous suit between the same parties litigating under the same title in a Court, then they are not competent i.e. they become barred to try the subsequent suit in which such issue has been raised.

    Thus, this doctrine of Res Judicata is a fundamental concept based on public policy and private interest. It is conceived in the larger public interest, which requires that every litigation must come to an end. It therefore, applies to civil suits, execution proceedings, arbitration proceedings, taxation matters, writ petitions, administrative orders, interim orders, criminal proceedings, etc.

    An ordinary litigation being a party or claiming under a party of a former suit cannot avoid the applicability of section 11 of C.P.C. as it is mandatory except on the ground of fraud or collusion as the case may be. The onus of proof lies on the party relying on the theory of Res Judicata. The provisions of section 11 of C.P.C. are "not directory but mandatory". The judgment in a former suit can be avoided only by taking recourse to section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act on the ground of fraud or collusion.

    Hon'ble Mr. Justice Das Gupta in Satyadhan Ghosal v. Deorajan Deb said that ‘the principle of Res Judicata is based on the need of giving finality to the judicial decisions'.

    A small introduction of Administrative Law
    Administrative law is an often-misunderstood subject. As the name suggests, Administrative Law deals with the structure, powers and functions of the organs of administration, the limits on their powers, the methods and the procedures followed by them in exercising their powers and functions, the method by which their powers are controlled.

    Administrative law, also known as regulatory law, is created and enforced by some type of administrative government body from whom the law derives its power to set and enforce regulations depends on whether the agency is executive. It applies to all public officials and public agencies.

    An Administrative Government body may act through rulemaking, adjudication, or by enforcing a specific regulatory agenda. Administrative law is technically considered a branch of public law. Administrative law is that body of law which applies for hearings before quasi-judicial bodies, boards, commissions or administrative tribunals supplement the rules of natural justice with their own detailed rules of procedure.

    As distinguished from legislative and judicial authority, administrative authority entails the power to issue rules and regulations based on statutes, grant licenses and permits to facilitate the conduct of government business, initiate investigations of and provide remedies for complaints or problems, and issue orders directing parties to conform to governing statutes or rules.

    The two basic principles of administrative law are "audi alteram partem" (no person shall be condemned, punished or have any property right deprived, unheard) and "nemo judex in parte sua" (no person can judge a case in which he or she is party or in which he/she has an interest).

    The main reason for the development of administrative law has been the expansion of the administrative apparatus, functions and powers of the government. This was primarily due to the effect of Laissez Faire era which was prevalent in the 9th Century. When extensive powers are conferred on the administration, it becomes necessary to evolve a suitable control mechanism over the powers upholded by the administration.

    The expansion in the administrative powers creates the spectacle of misuse and abuse of power. Therefore, for the regulation and control of the administrative powers, Administrative Law began to grow.

    It is important to consider two vital factors in dealing with administrative agencies: 1) the rules and regulations are often special for each agency and are not usually found in the statutes but in those regulations; 2) a member of the public must "exhaust his/her administrative remedies" (take every step, including appeals) with the agency and its system before he/she can challenge the administrative ruling with a lawsuit in court.

    An administrative-law judge is a government official with quasi-judicial powers, including the authority to conduct hearings, makes findings of fact, and recommends resolution of disputes concerning the agency's actions.

    Over-view of Res Judicata as a concept under Administrative Law

    Basically, the Doctrine of Res Judicata is applicable to the Code of Civil Procedure. But, at times, in many other statutes there is a use of the doctrine.
    As we know that the work or the role played by the Administrative Law is that of a watch dog. The Administrative Law sees that there is no use of power which has a malicious intention. The Administrative Law is there to see that there is an improvement in the society without any hurdles and the administration performs its duty in an honest manner.

    In Administrative Law, the use of this doctrine is that, it administers as to how well the Judiciary does its work, how efficiently the Judiciary disposes off the case and the doctrine makes itself applicable where there is more than one petition filed in the same or in the other court of India.

    The parties can file another suit in another court, just to harass and malign the reputation of the opposite party or can do so for receiving compensation twice from the different courts. Therefore, just to prevent such over-loads and extra cases in the court's kitty, Res Judicata holds a big responsibility and importance.
    A comparison of Res Judicata as a concept in between Administrative Law and the other laws. In Administrative Law, the doctrine works as a working principle and has been adopted or taken from Code of Civil Procedure. In C.P.C., as we have discussed above, Section 11 has a big role to be played in the civil courts of India. Even in International Law which is applicable in The International Court of Justice, there too Section 38 (1) (c) is dedicated towards the doctrine of Res Judicata.

    The Section reads as follows:
    1. The Court, whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such disputes as are submitted to it, shall apply:
    a. international conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states;
    b. international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law;
    c. the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;
    d. subject to the provisions of Article 59, judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law.

    The principles of Res Judicata even apply to the Constitution matters. The rule of Res Judicata is basically a rule of private law but has been transposed into the area of writ proceedings as well. Thus, the person is debarred from taking one proceeding after another and urging new grounds every time, in respect of one and the same ground every time causing harassment to the opposite party. Therefore, a subsequent writ petition cannot be moved against the judgement of a petition in a particular High Court. The judgement can be of any nature and of any High Court, but that order cannot be in any sense be challenged.

    The Criminal Law and to be more specific, Evidence Law also talks about the doctrine of Res Judicata but in the same context as that has been used in C.P.C. Therefore, apart from the Administrative Law and C.P.C., there are some few other laws which talk about the role of Res Judicata in the statute.

    The Nature of Res Judicata

    The Doctrine of Res Judicata strives to strike a balance between the two largely separated poles. One pit assures an efficient judicial system that renders final judgments with certainty and prevents the inequity of a defendant having to defend the same claim or issue of law repeatedly. On the other hand, it protects the plaintiff's interest in having issues and claims fully and fairly litigated.

    A US Supreme Court Justice explained the need for this legal precept as follows:
    Federal courts have traditionally adhered to the related doctrines of res judicata (claim preclusion) and collateral estoppel (issue preclusion). Under Res Judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties . . . from re-litigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude re-litigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first cause. As this court and other courts have often recognized, res judicata and collateral estoppel relieve parties of the costs and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on a judication
    The basic point involved in the Nature of the doctrine of Res Judicata is that the doctrine tries to bring in natural and fair justice to the parties and that too by barring the other party to file a multiple number of suits either for justice or for harassing the other party.

    Res judicata includes two related concepts: claim preclusion, and issue preclusion (also called collateral estoppel), though sometimes Res Judicata is used more narrowly to mean only claim preclusion. Claim preclusion 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 or jury as part of an earlier claim.

    It is often difficult to determine which, if either, of these apply to later lawsuits that are seemingly related, because many causes of action can apply to the same factual situation and vice versa.

    Therefore, the nature of the doctrine of Res Judicata is to enable the Courts deliver the justice and then to dismiss or freeze the other active suits which are of the very same nature although is at different stage. Such a role enables the Court to dismiss the matter from its jurisdiction and also the jurisdiction of the other Courts which are at the same level.

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

    Scope of Res Judicata

    The Scope of Res Judicata has very well been decided in the case of Gulam Abbas v. State of U.P. where the code embodies the rules of conclusiveness as evidence or bars as a plea of an issue tried in an earlier suit founded on a plaint in which the matter is directly and substantially an issue becomes final. Section 11 does create any right or interest over the property but merely operates as a bar to try the issue ‘once again'. The Court is assumed and applied to all the judicial bodies working in India.

    The scope of an earlier judgment is probably the most difficult question that judges must resolve in applying res judicata. Sometimes merely part of a subsequent lawsuit will be affected, such as a single claim being struck from a complaint, or a single factual issue being removed from reconsideration in the new trial. The principle of Res Judicata has been held to be of wider application on the basis of the wider principle of the finality of decision by Courts of law and a decision under Section 12 of the U.P. Agriculturists Relief Act of 1934 was held to operate as Res Judicata Section 11 CPC which embodies the principle of Res Judicata has been held to be not exhaustive and even though a matter may not be directly covered by the provisions of that section the matter may still be Res Judicata on general principles.

    The scope of the principle of Res Judicata is not confined to what is contained in Section 11 but is of more general application. Res Judicata could be as much applicable to different stages of the same suit as to findings on issues in different suits.

    In the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Smt. Deorajin Debi, where the principle of Res Judicata is invoked in the case of the different stages of proceedings in the same suit the nature of the proceedings, the scope of the enquiry which the adjectival law provides for the decision being reached as well as the specific provision made on matters touching such decisions are some of the factors to be considered before the principle is held to be applicable. Order IX Rule 7 does not put an- end to the litigation nor does it involve the determination of any issues in controversy in the suit. A decision or direction in an interlocutory proceeding of the type provided for by Order IX Rule 7 is not of the kind which can operate as Res Judicata so as to bar the hearing on the, merits of an application under Order IX Rule 13

    Exceptions to Res Judicata

    However, 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 competence to issue it. 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 recognise the judgment of a foreign court.

    In addition, in cases involving due process, cases that appear to be Res Judicata may be re-litigated. An instance would be the establishment of a right to counsel. People who have had their liberty taken away (that is, imprisoned) may be allowed to be re-tried with a counselor as a matter of fairness.
    Judicial Pronouncements in relation to Res Judicata.

    In the case of Jallur Venkata Seshayya vs. Thadviconda Koteswara Rao, a suit was filed in the Court for the purpose of declaring certain temples public temples and for setting aside alienation of endowed property by the manager thereof. A similar suit was dismissed by the Court two years ago and the plaintiffs here contended that it was the gross negligence on the part of the plaintiffs (of the previous suit) and hence the doctrine of Res Judicata should not be applied. But, the Privy Council said that finding of a gross negligence by the trial court was far from a finding of intentional suppression of the documents, which would amount, to want of bona fide or collusion on the part of the plaintiffs in prior suit. There being no evidence in the suit establishing either want of bona fide of collusion on the part of plaintiffs as res judicata.

    In the case of Beliram and Brothers vs. Chaudari Mohammed Afzal it was held that where a minors suit was not brought by the guardian of the minors bona fide but was brought in collusion with the defendants and the suit was a fictitious suit, a decree obtained therein is one obtained by fraud and collusion within the meaning of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, s. 44 and does not operate Res Judicata. The principle of Res Judicata in Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, s. 11 is modified by the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, s. 44 and the principles will not apply if any of the three grounds mentioned in s. 44 exists. General principles may not be applied in a way making Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, s. 11 nugatory.

    In the case of Rural Litigation And Entitlement Kendra vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, it was held that the writ petitions filed in the Supreme Court are not inter-party disputes and have been raised by way of public interest litigation and the controversy before the court is as to whether for social safety and for creating a hazardless environment for the people to live in, mining in the area must be permitted or stopped. Even if it is said that there was a final order, in a dispute of this type it would be difficult to entertain the plea of Res Judicata.

    The Court was of the view that leaving the question open for examination in future would lead to unnecessary multiplicity of proceedings and would be against the interests of the society. It is mete and proper as also in the interest of the parties that the entire question is taken into account at this stage. Undoubtedly, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has come into force with effect from 19 November 1986. Under this enactment, power became vested in the Central Government to take measures to protect and improve the environment. These writ petitions were filed as early as 1983 more than three years before the enactment came into force. The principle of Res Judicata does not apply strictly to public interest litigations. The procedural laws are not fully applicable to public interest litigation cases. Where the prior public interest relates to illegal mining, subsequent public interest litigation to protect environment is not barred.

    In Forward Construction Co. v. Prabhat Mandal, the Supreme Court was directly called upon to decide the question. The apex court held that the principle would apply to public interest litigation provided it was a bona fide litigation.

    In another case of Ramdas Nayak v. Union of India, the court observed:
    It is a repetitive litigation on the very same issue coming up before the courts again and again in the grab of public interest litigation. It is high time to put an end to the same.These were few cases in which the Court pronounced its judgement either in favour or against the doctrine of Res Judicata.

    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 extend 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 extend has widened with the passage of time and the Supreme Court has elongated the areas with its judgments.

    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.
    In addition, in matters involving due process, cases that appear to be Res Judicata may be re-litigated. An example would be the establishment of a right to counsel. People who have had liberty taken away (i.e., imprisoned) may be allowed to be re-tried with a counselor as a matter of fairness.

    Failure to apply
    When a subsequent court fails to apply Res Judicata and renders a contradictory verdict on the same claim or issue, if a third court is faced with the same case, it will likely apply a "last in time" rule, giving effect only to the later judgment, even though the result came out differently the second time. This situation is not unheard of, as it 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 broadly to apply it, or whether to recognize it in the first place.

    1) Takwani C.K., ‘Civil Procedure Code', Edition 5. Reprint 2007, Eastern Book Publication, Lucknow.
    2) Dr. Myneni S.R., ‘The Law of Evidence'. Edition 1. Asia law House, Hyderabad.
    3) Halsbury Laws of India, Vol. 1: Administrative Law.
    4) Halsbury Laws of India, Vol. : Code of Civil Procedure

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