Recently, a bench of Supreme Court of India has made an observation regarding the Doctrine of Res Judicata. The Court has held that this doctrine would not be a ground for rejecting a plaint under Order VII Rule 11(d) of the Code of Civil Procedure (hereinafter referred to as “CPC”). This has stirred an interesting debate in the legal fraternity around the adjudication of plea of Res Judicata, making it a significant topic to study with respect to the CPC.
Doctrine of Res Judicata Meaning
The doctrine of Res Judicata has been embodied in Section 11 of the CPC. This is a Latin term. It means “a thing/matter adjudged”. It indicates that where a matter is already judged, no court will have the power to try any fresh suit or issues which has been already settled in the former suit between the same parties.
Hence, when a competent body adjudicates upon an issue, involving the same parties which were party to the previous suit, cannot file another suit, asking the court to adjudicate upon the issue, which is similar to the issue already adjudicated upon in the previous suit.
Spencer Bower was of the view that the doctrine of res judicata refers to the final judicial decision given by a judicial tribunal that has competent jurisdiction over the cause or matter in litigation and over the parties thereto. Res Judicata is simply the shorter version of the original maxim ‘Res Judicata pro-Veritate Accipitur’. It means that a thing adjudged must be taken as truth.
In the case of Lal Chand v Radha Krishnan[i], the Apex Court was of the view that once the final judgement is pronounced, the judges who are confronted with a suit which identically similar to the earlier judgement, would apply the doctrine of res judicata to save the impact of the main judgment. This would ensure that multiplicity of the judgement pertaining to similar matters between the same parties is kept at bay.
Elucidating upon this legal doctrine, Justice Das Gupta in Satyadhyan Ghosal v Deorjin Debi[ii] had stated that the foundation of the doctrine of res judicata lies in the need for giving finality to judicial decisions. It means that once a matter is adjudicated, it mustn’t be adjudged again. Preliminary it will be applicable as between past litigation and future litigation. In case where a matter has been decided between parties in a suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because they did not resort to an appeal to a higher Court or because the said appeal was dismissed, or in cases where there is no scope for an appeal, none of the two parties will be permitted in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter all over again.
It is pertinent to note that as soon as a writ appeal is moved to either the High Court or Apex Court of the country, and has been dismissed there on benefits, then a resulting writ cannot be moved in a similar court pertaining to the same cause of action.[iii]
The doctrine of res judicata finds a mention in the laws of almost every nation. The doctrine finds its genesis in the Roman law which acknowledged the concept of “one suit and one decision was enough for any single dispute.” It is essential to note that even the Hindus and the Muslim Jurists recognized the doctrine of res judicata. In ancient Hindu Law, this doctrine was referred to as Purva Nyaya which meant former judgement.
Associated Legal Maxims to Doctrine of Res Judicata
It would be right to say that the Doctrine of Res Judicata primarily takes inspiration from three legal maxims. Nemo Debet Lis Vexari Pro Eadem Causa is the legal maxim that can be associated with this doctrine. According to this maxim, a person must not be vexed annoyed, harassed or vexed twice for the same cause. The second legal maxim is Interest Republicae Ut Sin Finis Litium, meaning, it is in the interest of the state to put a stop to litigation. Lastly, Re judicata pro veritate occipital, meaning, the decision of the court of law must be adjudged as true.
In cases where the former judgement is not sound or erroneous, this doctrine can work against the injured party to the former suit. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that the Doctrine of Res Judicata tries to secure public interest and upholds the principle of public policy. Hence, leaving very little scope for absolute justice. Where one of the parties feels like the judgement is not sound, they have the option to appeal the respective court of appeal.
Section 11 of the CPC
Section 11 of the CPC propounds upon the doctrine of Res Judicata. It reads as follows:
“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”.
Explanation 1 of Section 11 clears the air around the meaning of ‘former suit’ as used in Section 11. Here, ‘former suits’ refer to those suits which have been decided before the suit in question irrespective of whether it was instituted prior thereto.
Explanation 2 talks about the determination of the competence of a court.
Explanation 3, again, deals with the matter of former suit and states that the former suit must be alleged by one party and denied by the other.
Explanation 4 talks about the subject matter and states that where any matter has already been made a ground in the former suit, such a matter can be said to be a matter in the former suit.
Explanation 5 states that relief claimed and not granted is deemed to have been rejected/refused.
Explanation 6 states that where a person initiates a proceeding pertaining to a public right, all such persons who have interest in the said right would be deemed to claim under that person who initiated the litigation.
Explanation 7 elucidates upon the applicability of the doctrine of Res Judicata on the execution of a decree.
Explanation 8 states that where a former court becomes incompetent to try a subsequent suit due to incompetency to try it due to limitation pertaining to its jurisdiction, the doctrine of Res judicata will be applied.
Essential Conditions of Section 11 of CPC
There are certain conditions for the applicability of the Doctrine of Res Judicata under Section 11 of the CPC. The following conditions must be met with to avail the plea of Res Judicata.
- Both the suits must be between the same parties or their representative. If the parties to both the suits are different there would lie no ground for the application of the doctrine of Res Judicata. Both, the parties as well as their privies will be bound by Res Judicata.
- They should prosecute under the same title. This refers to the capacity of the party.
- The matter directly and substantially in issue in both the suits must be related or, the issue directly and substantially in issue in the ensuing suit should likewise be directly and substantially in issue in the previous suit.
- For the application of doctrine of Res Judicata, it is essential to ensure that the matter in the former or previous suit was heard and decided. Therefore, where the suit was dismissed because the plaintiff failed to appear or on technical defect, or on the ground for misjoinder of parties, etc., the doctrine of res judicata would not be applicable in the subsequent suit.
- The court that decided the previous suit has the competency to decide the subsequent suit. This doctrine will be devoid of any significant bearing where the order was passed without jurisdiction. The underlying principle for this condition is that the court having limited jurisdiction cannot bind a court to have larger jurisdiction by its decision.
Case Laws on Doctrine of Res Judicata
The following are a few case laws related to the Doctrine of Res Judicata:
Daryao v. State of UP, AIR 1961 SC 1457
In this case, the Apex Court placed this doctrine on a higher footing, considering and treating the binding character of the judgments pronounced by competent courts as an essential part of the rule of law.
Amalgamated Coalfields Ltd. & Anr. v. Janapada Sabha Chhindwara & Ors., AIR 1964 SC 1013
The court held that the general principle of doctrine of res judicata applies to writ petitions filed under Article 32 and 226. Further, the court ensured that the application of this doctrine to the petitions filed under Article 32, does not in any way impair the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens. It only seeks to regulate the manner in which the said rights could be successfully asserted and vindicated in courts of law.
State of Karnataka v. All India Manufacturers Organisation & Ors., AIR 2006 SC 1846
In this case, it was held that the doctrine of Res Judicata would be applicable to a Public Interest Litigation, provided the earlier case was a genuine and a bona fide litigation as the judgement in the earlier case would be a judgement in rem.
Exceptions to the Doctrine of Res Judicata
There are certain exceptions to the doctrine of res judicata and these are as follows:
- If the decree has been obtained by practicing misrepresentation or fraud on the court, or where the proceedings had been taken all together under a special statute.
- Not every finding in the earlier judgment would operate as a res judicata. Only an issue, which is ‘directly’ and ‘substantially’ decided in the earlier suit, would operate as res judicata.
- Where the decision has not been given on merit, it would not operate, in case, the appeal of the judgement and decree of the court below is pending in the appellate court, as then the judgement of the court below cannot be held to be final, and the findings recorded therein would not operate as res judicata.
- When the judgment is non-speaking.
- Where the matter has not been decided on merit earlier, the doctrine of res judicata is not applicable.
- The doctrine of Res Judicata does not apply to criminal cases, where the entire proceedings have been initiated illegally and without jurisdiction.
- When a matter involves a pure question of law, the doctrine of res judicata will not apply.
- In cases of Dismissal in limine or dismissal on default, the doctrine of res judicata does not apply.
Difference Between Res Sub Judice And Res Judicata
The sections dealing with Res Sub Judice and Res Judicata are section 10 and section 11 respectively. The former is applicable to the proceedings pending in the court, while the latter is applicable to matters already adjudicated upon. The doctrine of Res Sub Judice bars two parallel suits between the same parties, i.e., it bars the trial of a suit in which the matter is pending for decision in the previous suit. One the other hand Doctrine of Res Judicata stops the second trial of the same dispute between the same parties.
Constructive Res Judicata
Constructive Res Judicata is referred to as an artificial form of res judicata. It can be said that it is reflected in Explanation IV of Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code. If a party fails to raise a plea in the previous suit in spite of having an opportunity to do the same, then they are barred from raising the same plea in the subsequent suit, as they may still be bound by this doctrine.
While discussing the doctrine of Res Judicata, it is essential to realize that the main objective behind this doctrine is to prevent multiplicity of suits, to ensure the court’s resources are not being misused or wasted, to prevent injustice by ensuring that there is no unnecessary recovery of damages twice for the same matter. Perpetual litigation would do no good to society at large. The Doctrine of Res Judicata must be applied mindfully. We must realize that this doctrine has a very wide scope and the application of which is constantly changing and evolving.
Frequently Asked Questions On Doctrine of Res Judicata
What is the difference between doctrine of res judicata and res sub judice?
The doctrine of res judicata stops the second trial of the same dispute between the same parties to avoid multiplicity of suits. On the other hand, Doctrine of Res Sub Judice bars two parallel suits between the same parties and is applicable to pending proceedings.
Is Doctrine of Res judicata also applied in criminal proceedings?
In case of C. G Balakrishnan v. Incometax Officer, the court held that the general principles of res judicata are also applicable in criminal proceedings.
[i] Lal Chand v Radha Krishnan, (1977) 2 S.C.C. 88 (India).
[ii] Satyadhyan Ghosal v Deorjin Debi, AIR 1960 SC 941.
[iii] M S M Sharma v Sinha, A.I.R. 1960 S.C. 1186 (India).