The doctrine of Res judicata

Introduction

The doctrine of Res judicata or rule of conclusiveness is embodied in Sec 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The phrase Res Judicata has been derived from Latin maxim “res judicata pro veritate occipitur”, which means “the thing has been judged”. “Res” means “subject matter” or “dispute” and “Judicata” means “adjudged” or “decided”. Hence, Res judicata means a “matter decided”.

  The doctrine states that once a matter is fully decided by a competent court the party will not be allowed to reopen it in subsequent litigation. This important in the way that in absence of the same, there will be no end to litigation and parties to suit will be subjected to trouble, harassment, expenses etc. It is based on larger public interest that all litigation must come to an end and also on principles of justice, equity and conscience.

History

The doctrine of Res judicata has now been accepted in all civilized system. This rule has an ancient history. It was known as Purva Nyaya (former judgment) under ancient Hindu Law. It was also recognized by Muslim Jurists. Under Roman jurisprudence, it was recognized as “one suit and one decision is enough for single dispute.” The European Continent and Commonwealth countries accepted the same.

Object

The object of the doctrine of res judicata is the combined result of following maxims:

  1. Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa- which means no person should be harassed twice for the same dispute.
  2. Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium– it means that litigation should be put to an end in the interest of the State.
  3. Res judicata pro veritate occipitur– which implies that judicial decision should be accepted as correct.

Res judicata under Code of Civil procedure, 1908

Res judicata is defined under Sec 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It is a mandatory provision and is based on a fundamental concept of public policy and private interest. Section 11 states that- ‘no court shall try any suit or issue the matter of which is directly and substantially in issue in a former suit between the same parties under whom the same parties are litigating under the same title and which has been heard and finally decided by a competent court’. It means the court shall not try suit which has been previously settled between the same parties. When any suit is filed before the court, which has already been decided by a competent court and no appeal is pending, the court has the power to dispose of such suit under the decree of Res judicata.

The concept of Res judicata has been explained in the case of Satyadhyan Ghoshal v. Deorjin Debi [3] as – “the principle of Res judicata is based on the need of giving finality to decisions. It says once a Res judicata, it shall not be adjudged again.”

It is to be noted that this section contains rules of conclusiveness of judgement and thereby avoids vexatious litigation. Res judicata binds the parties to suit and not the legislature.

Extent and applicability

The doctrine codified in Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure is not exhaustive. It applies to civil suits, execution proceedings, arbitration proceedings, taxation, writ petition, interim orders, criminal proceedings, administrative orders, etc.

Conditions-

The following conditions must be satisfied to constitute Res judicata under Section 11-

  • The matter ‘directly and substantially’ in the present or subsequent suit must be same as a matter which was ‘‘directly substantially in issue either actually (Explanation III) or constructively (Explanation IV) in the former suit (Explanation I ).”
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  • The former suit must have been suited between the same parties or between the same parties under whom or any one of them claim.
  • Such parties must have been litigating under the same title in the former suit.
  • The court which decided the former suit must be a competent court to try the subsequent suit.
  • The matter directly and substantially in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and decided by the competent court in the former suit.

It is to be noted that to determine whether the matter is directly and substantially in issue, would depend on whether the decision on such matter would affect the decision of the suit.

Res judicata and Res subjudice

Section 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure embodies doctrine of Res Subjudice. The doctrine of Res judicata differs from Res subjudice in following aspects-

  1. Res judicata applies to matter adjudicated upon, whereas res subjudice applies to a matter pending trial.
  2. Res judicata bars the trial of a suit and an issue which has been decided in the former suit, res subjudice bars the trial of a suit which is pending decision in the previously instituted suit.

Constructive res judicata

The rule of constructive res judicata is engrafted in Explanation IV to Section 11 of CPC. It is also known as ‘ artificial form of Res judicata’ and states that- “if any plea could have been taken by a party in proceeding between him and his opponent in a proceeding between him and his opponent, he should not be permitted to take the same plea in subsequent proceeding with reference to the same subject matter.” The doctrine is explained by Supreme Court in the case of Workmen v. Board of Trustees, Cochin Port Trust [4] as – “The principle of res judicata also comes into play when by the judgment and order a decision of a particular issue is implicit in it, that is, it must be deemed to have been necessarily decided by implication; then also the principle of res judicata on that issue is directly applicable.”

Conclusion

As Res judicata bars suit, the doctrine should be interpreted and applied liberally. The substance and the form should be considered to check whether the doctrine would apply or not. The doctrine is very useful to protect parties from vexatious litigation, harassment and unnecessary expenses as it covers not only civil cases but includes other areas which are related to society and people.

                    Reference:

                      [1] Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908.

                      [2] Takwani, C.K, 1983, ‘Civil Procedure with Limitation Act’, eighth edition

                      [3] AIR 1960 SC 941: (1960) 3 SCR 590.

                   [4] (1978) 3 SCC 119: AIR 1978 SC 1283

Also Read: Injunctions and Its Effects under Civil Procedure Code, 1908

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