Doctrine of Res Judicata: Brakes on Re-litigation

Posted On : December 8, 2022
Doctrine of Res Judicata: Brakes on Re-litigation
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Legal matters in courts are tricky. Sometimes, understanding the legality of something based on applicable rules is as complex as understanding the Bermuda Triangle. Among many such complex rules of law, Res Judicata also exists. The rule puts a brake on unending litigation in courts. 

The concept dealt below can be understood with a simple example. Suppose you have a land in Kolkata whose title of ownership was in question. The same was decided by the district court and the decision happened to be against you. Being aggrieved by the decision, you do not approach the higher court for appeal, but hire a lawyer in Kolkata to institute another case, in the same court, for the same matter, against the same parties. The question arises here - “Is the court dutiful to go through the matter all over again while the same is already decided?”

This is where the doctrine of res-judicata plays a crucial role. There are several principles which altogether bring competence to res judicata. 

Maxims Backing Doctrine of Res-Judicata 

Before jumping to understand what is res judicata in CPC, it is better to be familiar with the raw material of principles forming res judicata:

1. Nemo Debet Bis Vexari Pro Una Et Eadem Causa

It lays the principle that no person should be tried twice in the same matter. In other words, no person should be vexed/ prosecuted for the same offence or cause twice.

2. Interest Reipublicae Ut Sit Finis Litium

It is in the interest of the state, the public, and the society at large, that there has to be a limit for litigation. Unending litigation brings no good for anyone. 

3. Res Judicata Pro Veritate Accipitur

The legal maxim means that “a thing adjudicated is received as the truth”. In other words, once a competent court has reached a decision after following the due process of inquiry in a matter between the same parties, it should not be allowed to be agitated over and over by the same or another court. 

Res-Judicata Elements

It will prove convenient to break down the foreign term to understand the literal meaning of this Latin term. ‘Res’ here means ‘subject matter’ and ‘judicata’ means ‘juridically decided or adjudged’. The doctrine holds utmost importance for civil lawyers, particularly representing the defence side. 

Knowing how to file a civil suit is not enough for a lawyer. Applicable rules and ways to defend a case are inevitable. Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 defines the doctrine of res judicata. The rule restricts courts in India from trying any suit or issue as per CPC, if:

  • Same matter in issue substantially or directly raised
  • Which has already been heard and finally decided by a competent court
  • Between the same parties
  • Under the same title
  • Such matter is sought to be re-instituted through further suit

The section 11 of res judicata CPC also contains eight explanations in addition to the definition, which bring more clarity to the stance of this doctrine. As per the explanation, the following aspects are also covered:

  1. Former suit - decided priorly
  2. Competence of court disregards the right to appeal
  3. Matter in issue expressly admitted or denied
  4. Constructive Res- Judicata
  5. Claim not specifically granted is deemed refused
  6. Application on representative suit 
  7. Application on execution decree
  8. Matters in court of limited jurisdiction also barred

Hence, the res judicata elements are as follows:

  • Re-litigation
  • Same cause of action
  • Same or closely related parties

As a litigator in the court, if a civil lawyer in Kolkata finds that all these elements are present in a suit filed by the opposite party, the doctrine of res judicata is the ultimate defence in such a case. 

Constructive Res-Judicata

The term is widely known as the artificial form of res judicata in India. It lays that if a party could have raised a plea in a former suit along with other interests, but the same was missed or not realised, the same can not be raised in the subsequent suit.

The same was affirmed in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Nawab Hussain, AIR (1977). A Sub-Inspector was charged of corruption and dismissed from service through orders passed by the DIG and confirmed by the State government. The respondent filed a plea against his dismissal which was rejected by the court. It was followed by a writ petition before Allahabad High Court under Article 226 of Constitution of India for lack of opportunity for a reasonable hearing before dismissal. The hon’ble high court reversed the orders of the trial court rejecting the plea against dismissal. The matter was appealed by the state to the apex court whereby it was held that the principle of res judicata applies here since the cause here was already in the knowledge of the concerned person at the time of the former suit. Hence, the appeal against the high court order was allowed.  

Landmark Judgments on Res Judicata

When there is darkness all over related to the concept provided in a Bar Act of law, landmark judgments pave the way. There is a res judicata case law for every doubt, whether it is question of fact, of law, or the interests of the public at large. Some of those landmark judgments on res judicata have been pointed below:

Res Judicata and Public Interest Litigation

The case of National Confederation of Officers Association of Central Public Sector Enterprises and Others v. Union of India and Others (2021) is the res judicata case law here. The apex court held that “While determining the applicability of the principle of res judicata under Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, the Court must be conscious that grave issues of public interest are not lost in the woods merely because a petition was initially filed and dismissed, without a substantial adjudication on merits.”

Question of Law and Fact

The confusion was settled by the apex court in the case of The Jamia Masjid vs. Sri K V Rudrappa (since Dead) By Lrs. &Ors (2021). The court held that “Issues that arise in a subsequent suit may either be questions of fact or of law or mixed questions of law and fact. An alteration in the circumstances after the decision in the first suit, will require a trial for the determination of the plea of res judicata if there arises a new fact which has to be proved. However, the plea of res judicata may in an appropriate case be determined as a preliminary issue when neither a disputed question of fact nor a mixed question of law or fact has to be adjudicated for resolving it.”

The apex court in the above case also laid the twin test to determine applicability of doctrine of res judicata. The tests are as follows:

  1. The necessity test: Whether the adjudication of the issue was ‘necessary’ for deciding on the principal issue.
  2. The essentiality test: Whether the judgment in the suit is based upon the decision on that issue.

Earlier in Madhukar D Shende v. Tarabai Aba Shedage (2002), the apex court had decided that “A determination of whether res judicata is attracted raises a mixed question of law and facts”. 

Doctrine of Res Judicata: Frequently Asked Questions 

Q- What is res judicata principle?

A- It can be understood as the rule of restricting re-litigation for the same cause among the same parties. 

Q- What is res judicata in CPC?

A- Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 defines res-judicata as the rule of avoiding further litigation on a matter that has already been heard and decided among the same parties. 

Q- What are the conditions for res judicata?

A- The conditions of doctrine of res-judicata involve re-litigation among the same parties for the same cause of action. 

Written By:
Ridhi Khurana

Ridhi Khurana


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