One person ought not to be injured by the acts of others to which he is a stranger.
Every fact not admitted, must be proved upon oath, either on the trial of the issue, or some other issue involving the same question between the same parties. Where other evidence is adduced, it is “Res inter alios acta,” and this maxim applies ; unless it be of that nature which necessity has at all times admitted ; as, documents of a public nature, parish registers, etc ; or, as the statements and declarations of persons deceased, made in the ordinary course of their duty and calling, or against their interest, and which are admissible even against strangers ; as, where the book of a deceased drayman is put in evidence to prove the delivery of beer, by an entry of the transaction in his handwriting ; or, entries in the books of a deceased attorney marked as paid, to prove the date of the transactions to which they refer ; or, an entry in the book of a midwife marked paid, to prove, the date of birth of a child. Amongst the facts taken as admitted, are all judgments and other proceedings in rem, i.e. of a public, judicial nature, as distinguished from proceedings in personam, or of a private nature.
A simple illustration of the maxim is that of a judgment recovered in one court, which may be successfully pleaded in bar in an action between the same parties for the same thing in another court of concurrent jurisdiction. But it is otherwise where the record of a conviction in a criminal suit is offered as evidence of the same fact coming into controversy in a civil suit, in which case it is inadmissible, the parties not being the same, the Crown being a party in the criminal suit though not in the civil.
The judgment of a court of concurrent jurisdiction directly upon a point, is conclusive upon the same matter between the same parties. But, it is also a general principle, that a transaction between two parties in a judicial proceeding ought not to bind a third. Therefore, the depositions of witnesses in another cause in proof of a fact — the verdict of a jury finding a fact — and the judgment of the court on facts so found ; although evidence against the parties and all claiming under them ; are not in general to be used to the prejudice of strangers. This principle, governing judgments as between third parties, has been thus explained. That the judgment is conclusive or an estoppel, if pleaded, where there is an opportunity of pleading it ; but that, where there is no such opportunity, then it is conclusive as evidence ; but, if the party forbear to rely upon it as an estoppel when he may plead it, he is taken to waive the estoppel, and to leave the prior judgment as evidence only for the jury.
In order to bind a party, he must have sued or been sued in the same character in both suits ; as, in an action by an executor on a bond, he will not be estopped by a judgment in an action brought by him as administrator on the same bond, but he may show the letters of administration repealed.
Of the exceptions to the above general rule may be mentioned, all judgments of a public nature ; as, relating to customs, tolls, etc; which bind strangers as well as privies. Judgments in rem bind all mankind, and of this nature are judgments in proceedings in the courts of Admiralty, Spiritual, and Revenue courts.
The reason of the maxim seems to be, that it would be unjust to bind a person by proceedings taken behind his back, to which he was, in fact, no party, and to which he had not an opportunity of making a defence, and from which he could not appeal.
In Subbu Gounder vs P.Kalimuthu1) the Madras High court explained this maxim as under.
At this juncture, I would like to recollect the following maxim:
Res inter alios acta alteri nocere non debet: A transaction between two parties ought not to operate to the disadvantage of a third It is as thoroughly settled as any other preposition of law could be that a document would not have any binding effect on a third party, unless such third party is a party to the document.