The general principle of law is that judgments whether previous or subsequent are not relevant in any case or proceeding. Every case has to be decided upon its own facts as they exist between the parties to it and not by reference to the judgments in other cases. A judgment in the criminal trial is not relevant to the civil case except for the purpose of showing the fact of trial and conviction for it.
Thus, in a suit for damages for damaging the plaintiff’s trees, the fact that the defendant was acquitted on the same charge in a criminal prosecution was not admitted in evidence. For the same reason, a civil judgment is not relevant to a criminal trial though arising out of the same facts. For example, a judgment in a civil suit for defamation is not relevant to a criminal prosecution based upon the same defamatory statement.
If an action is started against a manufacturer for supplying defective goods and the court holds the manufacturer to be not liable. Subsequently, another person starts an action against the same manufacturer, for supplying the same kind of defective goods. The previous judgment is not relevant to the subsequent case.
Judgments are categorized/ classified into two kinds, namely–
Judgments affecting the legal status of some subject matters, persons or things are called “Judgments in rem‟. E.g. Divorce Court Judgment, grant of probate or administration etc. Such judgments are conclusive evidence against all the persons, whether parties to it or not.
Judgments in personam are all the ordinary judgments not affecting the status of any subject matter, any person or anything. In such judgments, the rights of the parties to the suit or proceedings are determined.
Judgments are, however, relevant facts of great importance. Thus, to the general principle that judgments are not relevant, the Act recognizes a few exceptions (Section 40-43).
Section 40 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 speaks about, “Pervious judgments relevant to bar a second suit or trial”.
Section 40 permits evidence of the previous judgment, order or decree, which by law prevents any court from taking cognizance of a suit or holding a trial, when the question arises whether such court ought to take cognizance of such suit or hold such trial. The object of Section 40 is to avoid multiplicity of suits and to save the precious time of the court. This provision is incorporated under Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, which deals with the doctrine of Res judicata.
Section 41 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 speaks about, “Relevancy of certain judgments in probate, etc., jurisdiction”. Section 41 deals with judgments in rem, which bind not only the parties and their representatives but the whole world. A judgment in rem under Section 41 shall be conclusive in civil as well as criminal proceedings.
Under this section a final judgment, order or decree of a competent court in the exercise of probate, matrimonial, admiralty or insolvency jurisdiction which confers upon or takes away from any person any legal character or which declares any person to be entitled to any such character or to be entitled to any specific thing absolutely (not as against some specific person) is relevant when existence of any such legal character or title to any such things is relevant. A judgment in rem under this section shall be conclusive in civil as well as criminal proceedings.
Conditions: For application of Section 41, the following conditions are to be satisfied:
For example: - A prosecutes B for stealing a cow from him. B is convicted. A afterwards, sues C for the cow, which B had sold to him before his conviction. As between A and C, the judgment against B is irrelevant.
Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 speaks about, “Fraud or collusion in obtaining judgment, or incompetence of Court, may be proved”. The general rule is, a judgment of a competent court shall be binding on the parties operating as Res judicata in subsequent proceedings between the same parties. Section 44 contains exceptions to this general rule. According to Section 44, a judgment is liable to be annulled/ impeached on the ground of a) want of jurisdiction; b) fraud; and c) collusion.
The existence of a judgment over a matter which is again in question is a satisfactory piece of evidence, through, of course, nothing is said about its evidentiary value in the Evidence Act. The Act only provides that the value of a judgment may be demolished by showing that it was delivered by a court of incompetent jurisdiction, or it was obtained by fraud or collusion.
Such a judgment does not have the effect of Res judicata. A judgment obtained by ‘collusion’ means that there was no cause of action between the parties and by collusion of the parties a cause of action was feigned thus enabling the court to pass its judgment.