LAW YOG

Res Judicata under Civil Procedure Code

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Laws of every aspect are based on principles. These principles govern the entire kingdom of jurisprudence in a country. These principles guide legislation, give legitimacy to judicial decisions and protect the citizens of a nation. The judiciary incorporates these principles in deciding cases and ensures conformity by the legislature and executive to such principles.

Res judicata is one such principle, whose origin cannot be sufficiently traced. It is an all-pervading concept present in all jurisdictions of the world. Res judicata is based on public policy and has universal application. India has adopted the principle of res judicata in S.11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (hereinafter referred to as “C.P.C.”).

Modern-day society is filled with disputes and litigation. The courts are flooded with frivolous, slow and cumbersome cases. The embodiment of a principle like res judicata, is one of the necessities in our country. In order to bring finality to litigation and prevent a person from being dragged to court, again and again, res judicata is essential in any society.

What is Res Judicata? 1

Res judicata refers to a plea described under section 11 of the code of civil procedure. It can be defined as a doctrine which is related to give finality to judicial decisions in original or appellate proceedings. This doctrine means that an issue or a point decided which has attained final verdict should not be allowed to be reopened and re-agitated over again. This doctrine is founded on the principles of equity, justice and a good conscience and it applies to all the civil and criminal proceedings as well as quasi-judicial proceedings before tribunals. Section 11 of the CPC is applicable to both the parties to the suit and not against the defendant alone.

Res Judicata is a rule of law

In Daryao v. State of U.P,1961 AIR 1457, 1962 SCR (1) 574 the Court observed that the binding character of judgments pronounced by Courts of competent jurisdiction is itself an essential part of the rule of law, and the rule of law obviously is the basis of the administration of justice on which the Constitution lays so much emphasis. The Court thus held that the rule of res judicata applies also to a petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution and if a petition filed by a petitioner in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution is dismissed on merits, such decision would operate as res judicata so as to bar a similar petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Rationale behind the Doctrine

The spirit of the doctrine of res judicata is the judicially formulated proposition that a legal proceeding which has been adjudicated in a prior action cannot be litigated a second time. The policies which res judicata is designed to serve to include the public interest in decreasing the amount of litigation, resulting in the protection of the individual from the harassment of having to litigate the same cause of action or issue against the same adversary or his privy more than once, and facilitation of reliance on judgments. 

Essentially, the doctrine of res judicata, in general, is based on the three following maxims:

  1.  nemo debet lis vexari pro una et eadem casua – meaning that no man should be vexed twice for the same cause,
  2. interest republicae ut sit finis litium –  or that it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation, and
  3. res judicata pro veritate occipitur – meaning that a judicial decision must be accepted as correct.

The principle is based upon the principles of justice equity and a good conscience and applies to various civil suits, criminal proceedings, writs, execution proceedings etc. The underlying purpose for this judicially created doctrine was to instil finality into litigation and to provide for sound economic use of judicial resources. 

In Duchess of Kingstone case, it was observed that judgment of a court of concurrent jurisdiction, directly upon the point, is, as a plea, a bar, or as evidence conclusive, between the same parties, upon the same matter, directly in question in another court and the judgment of a court of exclusive jurisdiction, directly on the point, is, in like manner, conclusive upon the same matter, between the same parties, coming incidentally in question in another court, for a different purpose.

Applicability of Res Judicata

Res judicata is a principle of universal application. It applies to civil suits, criminal proceedings, writ petitions, execution suits etc. This doctrine is, however, neither applicable to summary dismissal nor to compromise and consent decrees.  The doctrine of res judicata is not confined to the limits prescribed in Section 11, Civil Procedure Code. The underlying principle of that doctrine is that there should be finality in litigation and that a person should not be vexed twice over in respect of the same matter.  The essential condition for the applicability is that the subsequent suit or proceeding is founded on the same cause of action on which the former suit was founded.  It is a debatable point whether the doctrine of res judicata should be interpreted liberally or strictly. However, keeping in view its basis and objective, which is based on public policy, it can be reasonably asserted that the doctrine of res judicata should be interpreted liberally. 

Essentials of Res Judicata

Res judicata has universal application. In jurisdictions world over the essentials of res judicata are that: once a court with competent personal and subject matter jurisdiction over the parties renders a final judgment, that judgment should conclude the matter between the parties. These principles provide the foundation for the doctrine of res judicata. As a general rule, in order for the doctrine of res judicata to apply to future litigation, four elements must be present.

  1. The court must have competent jurisdiction over both the subject matter in dispute and the parties involved in the litigation.
  2. The judgment must have been “on the merits.” If the plaintiff received the judgment in her favour, there is no question that the judgment was on the merits.  If the defendant received the judgment in her favour, then the judgment “may or may not be upon the merits.”  As a general rule, when a plaintiff’s claim is dismissed based on procedure, the judgment is not on the merits.  However, if a court’s ruling in favor of a defendant was not based on procedural grounds, then the judgment will generally be on the merits. 
  3. The second case must be based on the same cause of action as the first action. 
  4. Finally, the parties in the second action must have been involved in the initial litigation. Moreover, when the doctrine of res judicata applies to a second suit involving the same parties and the same cause of action, the first judgment is conclusive not only on the matters that were “actually litigated but on all matters which could have been litigated.

Conditions for application of Res Judicata (Section 11 of CPC,1908) 2

  • There must be two suits – One former & other subsequent: Former suit means previously decided suit. It doesn’t matter when the suit was instituted. What it matters is when the decision came from the court.
  • Matter directly and substantially in the subsequent suit: It means that matter must be directly related to the suit. It must not be collateral or incidental to the issue.
  • There must be the same parties: The parties to a suit are those whose name appears on the record of the suit at the time of the decision. A party who withdraws or whose name is struck off is not considered as a party. Further, a minor not represented by the guardian for the suit is not a party to the suit. Where any decision made by the court in favor of or against any party then it not only binds the party but also their successors too.
  • There must be the same title: ‘Same title’ means ‘in same capacity’. It has been held in the number of cases that ‘a verdict against a man suing in one capacity will not stop him when he sues in another capacity’
  • The decision must be made by the competent court: The Former decision must be given by a competent court having jurisdiction on the case. If the case is decided by the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter then res judicata will not apply.
  • Heard and finally decided: The matter directly & substantially in issue in subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided by the court in a former suit. “Heard and finally decided” means that the court has exercised its judicial mind & after argument and consideration came to decision on contested matter and decision is made on the merits of the case. In the following cases the matter is deemed to be finally decided on merits even if the former suit is disposed of in the following manner:
  1. By ex parte
  2. By dismissal
  3. By decree on an award
  4. By oath tender under section 8 on Indian Oath Act,1873
  5. By dismissal owing to plaintiff failed to produce evidence at the hearing.

Does Res Judicata Apply To Writ Petition?

In Daryo Singh v. State of U.P 1961 AIR 1457, 1962 SCR (1) 574. the petitioner has filed a writ petition in the High Court of Allahabad under Article 226 and it was dismissed. He further filed a writ petition in Supreme Court under Article 32 of the constitution for same relief and same ground. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition and upheld the contention of the High Court. Hence the principle will also apply to writ petitions. However, it may be noted that the doctrine of Res Judicata will not apply to a writ of Habeas Corpus.

Landmark Cases on Res Judicata

Vithal Yeshwant v. Shikandarkhan (AIR 1963 SC 385)

In this case, the Supreme Court observed that if the final decision in any matter at issue between the parties is based by a court on its decisions on more than one point- each of which by itself will be sufficient for the ultimate decision- the decision on each of these points operates as res judicata between the parties.

Workmen v. Board of Trustees, Cochin Port Trust (1978 AIR 1283)

In this case, the Supreme Court observed that the principle of res judicata comes into play when by the judgment and order a decision of a particular issue is implicit in it, i.e., it must be deemed to have been necessarily decided by implication, then also the principle of res judicata on that issue is directly applicable.

Devilal Modi v. STO  (AIR 1965 SC 1150)

A challenged the validity of an order of assessment under Article 226. The petition was dismissed on merits. An appeal against that order was also dismissed by the Supreme Court on merits. A again filed another writ petition in the same High Court against the same order of assessment by taking some additional grounds. The High Court dismissed the petition on merits. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the petition was barred by the principle of constructive res judicata. The Court held that if constructive res judicata is not applied to such proceedings a party can file as many petitions as he likes and take one or two points every time. That clearly is opposed to the considerations of public policy on which res judicata is based and would mean harassment and hardship to the opponent. Besides, if such a course is allowed to be adopted the doctrine of finality of judgments pronounced by this Court would also be materially affected.

 Difference between Res Judicata and Res Sub Judice

Sr NoRes JudicataRes Sub Judice
1The doctrine of Res Judicata is contained in section 11 of the Civil Procedure CodeThe doctrine of Res Sub Judice is contained in section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code
2Res Judicata prohibits the second trial of the same dispute between the same parties.Res Sub Judice prohibits proceedings of two parallel suits between the same parties. This means that if two competent courts try the same suit on the same issue, the subsequent court can put stay on the trial to prevent the multiplicity of proceedings and time of the court.
3In Res Judicata, the previously instituted suit must be decided by the competent court in which the issue has been raised subsequently.In Res Sub Judice, the previously instituted suit must be pending in the same court or any competent court having jurisdiction.
4In the case of Res Judicata, it applies to suit and applications.In the case of Res Sub Judice, it applies to only suit, including appeal.
5In Res Judicata the motive is that there must be an end to litigation.ʼ Thus, there is a bar on trial that has already been adjudicated.In the case of Res Sub Judice, there must be two suits, one of which should be previously instituted

Conclusion

Res judicata means “to preserve the effect of first judgment” in a gist. This doctrine is similar to the concept of double jeopardy but in the civil law version. India has adopted the principle of res judicata in Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (hereinafter referred to as “C.P.C.”). Latin phrase “Res judicata pro veritate accipitur,” “a matter adjudged is taken for truth”. As this is for both civil and common law, the case does not hold appeal. In short, it is a bar for re-litigation of such cases between the parties.

Endnotes

1.  Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi AIR 1960 SC 941

2.  Sheodan Singh v. Daryao Kunwar AIR 1966 SC 1332 

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Vani Parashar

Student, Amity University NOIDA

Vani Parashar is a 3rd-year law student at Amity University, Noida. As a law student, She has taken part in different fields like youth parliaments, debates, MUNs and event organisation. She is a well-rounded individual who lives with passion, dedication and grace and this is what sets her apart from anybody else.

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