The term ‘res judicata’ means ‘thing already decided by a competent court’. Section 11 of Civil Procedure Code, 1908 embodies the doctrine of res judicata in India. It states that no court shall try any suit or issue in which the issue directly and substantially, in a former suit, between the same parties or their representatives, in a competent court, has been heard and finally decided by such court. This principle rests on two principles i.e. (i) one should not be vexed twice for same cause; and (ii) there should be finality to litigation. Where there has been an executable judgement between the parties, the rule of res judicata will prevent a fresh suit between them for the same relief.
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:
In Fida Hussain and Others v. Moradabad Development Authority and Another (AIR 2011 SC 3001 ) Hon'ble Supreme Court held that Principles of Resjudicata would apply only when the lis was inter parties and had attained finality of the issues involved. Principles will, however, have no application interalia in a case where the Judgment and / or order had been passed by a Court having no jurisdiction thereof and / or involving a pure question of law
There are five conditions which must be satisfied for the application of res judicata:
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.
The basic objects and operation of the provisions of Section 11 were observed by the Supreme Court in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal vs. Deorajin Debi (AIR 1960 SC 941) which states that when a matter between two parties is decided, either on the basis of question of fact or question of law and the decision is final, neither party shall be allowed to pursue the matter again and harass the other party.
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.
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.
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 recognize 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. In the absence of rule like res judicata there would have been endless litigation and parties would be going through continuous harassment and incurring huge expenses. The principle of res judicata has been evolved from common law system and now is been included in jurisprudence of every well regulated country. The basic idea behind this principle is that every litigation must come to an end and therefore, it applies to civil suits, tax matters, criminal proceedings, administrative laws etc.
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.
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 recognise it in the first place.