The doctrine of res judicata is a fundamental concept in the organization of every jural society with universal application. In the words of Justice Campbell, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States “Justice requires that every cause should be once fairly tried, and public tranquillity demands that having been tried once, all litigation about that should be concluded forever between those parties.” 1 If there had been no such rule there would have been endless litigation; the rights of the contesting parties would have been involved in endless confusion. For maintaining the public order, the repose of society, and the quiet of families require that what has been decided by competent tribunals shall be accepted as irrefragable legal truth.
From the time immemorial, the Courts have accepted the principle of the ‘conclusiveness of judgments’. It has been observed that the parties can not discuss the same question again in another action, although some objection or argument might have been urged upon the first trial which would have led to a different judgment, and was not urged. The bar of res judicata cannot be challenged even if subsequently new facts have arisen. 2
The rule of res judicata has an ancient history. It was also observed and implemented by both Mohammedan jurists and Hindu lawyers. In ancient Hindu Law, Res judicata was recognized as Purva Nyaya (former judgment) and under Roman law, it was recognized that “one suit and one decision was enough for any single dispute”. The doctrine was accepted in the European continent and as well as in the Commonwealth countries.3
The term res judicata is of Roman origin and has been derived from the maxim ‘Res judicata pro veritate acciputor’, meaning that issue once decided attains finality and no further case can be filed to decide the similar issue. The doctrine of res judicata has been incorporated in the English legal system for quite a long time.
At times, the rule worked harshly on individuals. For instance, -when the former decision was flawed but its operation was justified on the principle of public policy, which required that there must be an end to litigation. The basis of the doctrine of res judicata is to ensure public interest at large and not absolute justice. In the event of a wrong decision, the remedy is to challenge the decision by way of an appeal and not by instituting a fresh case.
Spencer Bower gave a definition of the principle of Res judicata “a final judicial decision pronounced by a judicial tribunal having competent jurisdiction over the cause or the matter in litigation, and over the parties thereto.” 4
In the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi 5, the term res judicata has been expounded by Das Gupta: The necessity for the doctrine of res judicata is based on finality to judicial decisions. It simply means that once a res is Judicata the same matter shall not be adjudged again
The doctrine of res Judicata is propounded in the larger public interest with a view to ending all litigation sooner than later. The principle has been propounded on the footing of justice, equity and a good conscience which requires a party to be not harassed multiple times involving the same issue 6. In India, the rule of Res judicata is enshrined under Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code which lays down this principle in a statutory form. The rule is founded on public policy and upon the need of giving finality to judicial decisions.
The doctrine of Res Judicata has been originated from 3 Roman maxims:
- Nemo debet lis vaxari pro eadem causa – It means that no person should be vexed annoyed, harassed or vexed two times for the same cause;
- Interest republicae ut sit finis litium – It means that it is in the interest of the state that there should be an end of litigation; and
- Re judicata pro veritate occipitur – Decision of the court should be adjudged as true.
Nature and Scope of Res-Judicata
Res- judicata includes two related concepts: claim preclusion and issue preclusion (also called collateral estoppels or issue estoppels) though sometimes res judicata are used more narrowly to mean only claim preclusion.
- Claim preclusion bars a suit from being brought again on an event which was the subject of a previous legal cause of action that has already been finally decided between the parties of those in relation to a party.
- Issue preclusion bars the relitigation of issues of fact or law that have already been necessarily determined by a judge as a part of an earlier case.
- It is often difficult to determine which, if either, of these concepts, apply to later lawsuits that are seemingly related because many causes of action can supply to the same factual situation and vice versa. The scope of an earlier judgment is probably the most difficult question that judges must revolve in applying res judicata. Sometimes merely part of the action will be affected. For example, a single claim may be struck from a complaint, or a single factual issue may be removed from reconsideration in the new trial.
Conditions of Res Judicata
The issues involved, adjudicated and decided in a former suit can’t always operate as res judicata in a subsequent suit. As per section 11 of the code, a matter to be termed as res judicata must satisfy the following conditions 7 :
In order to res judicata to be applicable, it has to be considered that in the subsequent suit filed, the matter in issue is directly and substantially be related to the former suit which has been decided on merits. Further the subsequent filed between the same parties is under the same name and is filed in a Court having similar Jurisdiction.
The scope of res judicata is also not limited to a subsequent suit filed on a similar claim. Resjudicata is also applicable on a suit where a party could have raised a plea against another party in a former suit and failed to do so and has filed a subsequent suit raising such plea. This concept is called constructive res judicata. This concept can be understood with the help of an example: A files a suit against B for a declaration that he is entitled to the property of C being his legal heir. The suit is dismissed. The subsequent suit claiming the same property on the ground of adverse possession is barred by constructive res judicata.
Res Judicata Whether Compulsory or Not?
Since the concept of res judicata was incorporated in the Code of Civil Procedure on the footing of justice, equity, a good conscience, and larger public interest, the doctrine of res judicata shall apply if the ingredients of section 11 are fulfilled. Meaning thereby the doctrine of res judicata is compulsory in nature and concession granted by an advocate shall be binding upon the interest of the parties.
Writs and Res Judicata
An impressive list of fundamental rights is enshrined in the Constitution of India. For the proper and efficient enforcement of these rights, the Constitution guarantees the right to move the Supreme Court and High Courts. A right without a remedy is of no use so Article 32 guarantees the individual right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of his rights given to him under Part III of the Constitution. The Supreme Court or the High Court is empowered to issue writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari whichever it considers appropriate.
Notwithstanding anything in Article 32, every High Court has the power throughout its jurisdiction to issue to any person or authority these writs for the protection of fundamental rights under Article 226 of the Constitution. The petitions filed to the Supreme Court under Article 32 and the High Court under Article 226 are also subjected to the rule of res Judicata. 8 The application of res judicata to the petitions filed under Article 32 doesn’t interfere with the enforceability of fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens of India. It only seeks to regulate the manner in which the said rights could be successfully asserted in a court of law. 9
In M.S.M Sharma V. Dr. Shree Krishna 10, for the first time, Supreme Court held that the general principle of res judicata applies even to a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Thus, once the petition filed under Article 32 is dismissed by the Supreme Court, a subsequent petition is also barred.
The Doctrine of Res Judicata can be understood as something which restrains either party to move the clock back during the pendency of the proceedings. This doctrine has a wide extension and it includes a lot of things even it includes Public Interest Litigations. This doctrine is applicable even outside the Code of Civil Procedure as we saw its applicability in the Constitutional law likewise it covers matters related to taxation and covers a lot of areas that are related to the society and people. The scope and the extent have widened with the passage of time and the Supreme Court has elongated the areas with its judgments. Some problems still persist but the courts and legislature are trying to deal with these problems.
- Jeter Vs. Hewitt, 22 How. 352, per Campbell J.
- Greathed Vs. Bromby, 7 T.R. 456.
- Lachhmi v. Bhulli, AIR 1927 Lah 289; Soorjomonee Dayee v. Suddanund Mohapatter, (1873) IA Supp 212 at p.218 (PC).
- Kevin M. Clermont, “Res Judicata as Requisite for Justice,” 68 Rutgers University Law Review (2016).
- Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi, AIR 1960 SC 941.
- Lal chand v. Radha Krishnan, AIR 1977 SC 789.
- Sheodan Singh v. Daryao Kunwar, AIR 1966 SC 1332; Syed Mohd. Salie Labbai v. Mohd. Hanifa, AIR 1976 SC 1569; Jaswant Singh v. Custodian, AIR 1985 SC 1096.
- Daryao v. Sate of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1964 SC 1457.
- Amalgamated Coalfields v. Janapad Sabha, AIR 1964 SC 1013.
- M.S.M sharma V. Dr. Shree Krishna AIR 1960 SC 1186.
This article is written by Paras Chugh. The author can be contacted via email at [email protected]
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