RES JUDICATA (Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium): It works on the public policy thatit is in the interest of the state that there should be an end to the litigation, to provide justice to the masses while ensuring that there is no abuse of the process of law. It works on the very basic principle that the litigation must end sooner than later and there be no endless litigation going on the same subject matter, which only drains the important time of the court and causes unnecessary harassment to the ‘party’. The doctrine of res judicata can be applied to Civil Suits, arbitration proceedings, writ petitions, taxation matters, criminal proceedings, industrial disputes etc.

Nature and Scope of Res Judicata

Res’ means any subject matter or matter of dispute and ‘Judicata’ means which has been judicially decided or adjudged. A person can seek defense and contest the plea stating the maxim ‘ex captio res judicata’. The principle based on the need of giving finality to the judicial decisions and rule of conclusiveness as stated in the Code of Civil Procedure is that once a suit has been conclusively decided the rights of the parties and final judgment has been passed, then Section 11 of Code of Civil Procedure lays the principle that there is a bar for further litigation on the same issue by the same parties again and again.

Key ingredients of Section 11, CPC:

Under this provision, no court shall try any suit or issue that has been heard and finally decided by a Court:

a) Where the issues in the matter have been directly and substantially related to issues of a previously decided suit; and

b) When the litigation has been between the same parties or between parties who claim to be litigated under the same title as they or any of them; and

c) The suit should have been entertained by a Court of competent jurisdiction and finally decided by such Court.

How to prove Res Judicata?

The burden of Proof:

The party which contends that an earlier decision operates as res judicata needs to prove that the same subject matter has already been decided by the court. The below-mentioned aspects are needed to be placed before the court in order to prove that matter has already been decided:

a) On record pleadings of the parties;

b) Issues raised;

c) Findings recorded in the judgment.

Litmus Test for Applicability: In order to know whether the matter is barred by the principle of res judicata, the following parameters must be satisfied:

a) Competency of the Court /Forum: One must know beforehand of the matter has been decided by the court was having the jurisdiction to try the case or not. If the court is not competent then res judicata is not applicable.

b) Parties and their representatives: Res judicata applies only if the contending parties are the same, if on a subsequent litigation a third party is involved in it then in that case res judicata does not apply.

c) Matters in Issue: It is of utmost importance to determine whether the issue in the matter has already been decided by the court or not. The final judgment passed by the court which conclusively decides the right and liabilities between the parties acts as precedent in the subsequent cases with the same subject matter. In a judgment, a matter can be decided explicitly or implicitly (those facts and issues which were made the ground of attack or defense).

When does the judgment of the court become final?

This question many a times creates confusion in the minds of the parties that how to know that the judgment passed by the court is final and there is no further scope of litigation in that particular matter in issue. When the matter directly and substantially in issue (that matter regarding which relief is sought by the parties or the matter which is the prime contention between the parties), is ‘heard and finally decided’ meaning that when the court has applied its judicial mind on that matter and after considering argument and facts has arrived on a decision, this is known as a decision on merits.

Is there any remedy if the decision is not based on the merits?

Yes, another suit can be instituted and the doctrine of Res Judicata will not operate if permission was taken from the court. In Shivashankar Prasad vs. Baikunth Nath, 1969 SCC (1) 718, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the principle of Res Judicata will not operate if, the former suit is dismissed by the court due to the following reasons:

  1. Issue of jurisdiction to try the suit;
  2. For default of plaintiff’s appearance;
  3. Improper framing of the suit;
  4. Technical defect or premature nature of the suit filed.

Will Res Judicata be applicable if the case is withdrawn?

No, the doctrine of Res Judicata will not be applicable. When the case is withdrawn by a party before it is decided by the court on merits, it is barred by Order 23, Rule 1, CPC if permission to withdraw was not taken by the court. It states that where the party withdraws the suit or abandons his/her claim without the permission of the court, that party is prohibited from contesting another suit based on the same issue.

How to put forward the grounds of defence or attack?

When the parties are contesting their case, it must be understood that all grounds of their defence and attack must taken during the course of the proceeding and not later after the judgment is passed. Once the matter decided by the court, the parties cannot re-litigate the case to present new grounds of defence or attack, claiming they were not able to put forth earlier, such suit is barred by the force of res judicata, as it is presupposed that the party had knowledge of the ground of defence or attack to be made by the parties.

When an intervention is permissible?

A person can intervene in an ongoing proceeding with the permission of the court at any stage of the proceedings and can join either plaintiff or the defendant before a judgment is passed. After a person is allowed to intervene on its own or on behalf of the parties is also considered to be party in the suit and the decision of the court will operate as res judicata.

What is its effect on a minor?

The principle of res judicata does not apply to a Minor if he/she is not represented by a guardian/friend or if there is gross negligence by guardian or if there is fraud or collusion, decree passed in such cases will not be covered by the operation of res judicata.

Is it applicable on cases dismissed ‘in limine’?

These are the rare cases in which the court dismisses a case by saying one word dismissed this is known as in limine i.e. dismissing a case without speaking a word or grounding any reasons, in such cases principle of res judicata will not operate.

Is there any consequence of failure to appear on res judicata?

If the defendant does not appear before the court and judgment is passed in their absence then the defendant cannot claim any relief saying they were not present at the time of judgment. Such a decree is known as ex-parte decree and any subsequent litigation is barred by the operation of the res judicata involving the same issue.

Is there any interplay of Res Judicata to Criminal law?

To save the individual from malafide intentions of the other party, Res Judicata comes as a respite as it lays bar that “No man shall be tried in a court twice for the same matter” – nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa. Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 lays that once a matter has been settled in the competent court, no party is allowed to reopen the case by filing further litigation. This principle also applies to criminal proceedings in many ways.

Even section 300(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 states that once a person has been tried for an offence by a competent court and he is convicted or acquitted, he cannot be tried for the same offence in the subsequent litigation. Article 20 (2) also strengthens the parallel of Res Judicata.

What are the grounds of avoidance to Res Judicata?

  • Fraud;
  • Collusion;
  • Incompetency of the Court.

An ordinary litigant can avoid the mandatory rule of res judicata by taking refuge in section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It lays that if a party proves or shows any evidence which proves that the judgment was passed by the incompetent court (not having jurisdiction), or it was obtained by fraud or collusion (secret agreement) to show a cause of action that has actually not happened, in such a case there is no effect res judicata.

How Res Judicata is applied in different scenarios?

a) Public Interest Litigation: The Supreme Court has stated that if the PIL is bona fide, then the principle of res judicata must be extended to stop same PIL coming again and again on the same issue. Accordingly if a matter is settled by the court in a PIL, whether specific relief provided or not that would act as res judicata for another PIL coming on the same issue.

b) Fundamental Rights: If a writ petition claiming the fundamental rights is brought before the High Court under Article 226, and is dismissed on merits then a subsequent petition claiming relief under same issue cannot be brought before the Supreme Court under Article 32. But if the petition is dismissed due to fault of the party applying for the writ or if alternative remedy is suggested by the court then the case is not barred for subsequent litigation under Article 32 before Supreme Court, as per the law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Daryao vs. State of U.P. AIR 1961 SC 1457.

Consultation always helps:

The parties can take benefit of proper consultation so that, they know the merits and ways to increase the chances of winning their suit by filling proper case before the court. The grounds of avoiding the res judicata are highly technical, that is where proper consultation is required before filling the petition/suit/litigation before the competent court so that is not dismissed right away by the effect of res judicata. You can seek help from top civil lawyers at The Law Codes.

Author: Shiv Pratap (Intern, The Law Codes)

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