What is Res Judicata?
The doctrine of res judicata is defined under Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. ‘Res’ means ‘subject-matter’ whereas ‘judicata’ means ‘already decided’ or ‘adjudged’. It means that once a matter has been adjudicated by a competent court, no party shall be allowed to reopen it in a subsequent suit. It is based on the principle of ‘ex captio res judicata’, which means one suit and one decision is enough for any single dispute. It is based on the rule of public policy, which means that there should be an end to litigation. It results from the decision of the court and prevents a multiplicity of suits, and also prevents the parties from making the same claim in different lawsuits. There is a presumption of the truth of the ruling in the prior lawsuits. The doctrine of res judicata removes the court’s ability to hear a case and disallows an inquiry in limine i.e., at the threshold. In Satyadhan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi[i] case, Das Gupta, J. explained the doctrine of res judicata. It means that once a matter, whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has already been adjudicated by a competent court between two parties, the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken or because the appeal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, then neither party will be allowed in a subsequent suit to bring forth the matter again for trial.
The object of Res Judicata
There are three main objects of the doctrine of res judicata. They are:
- ‘Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa’ which means that no person should be vexed for the same cause twice.
- ‘Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium’ which means that it is inherent to the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation.
- ‘Res judicata pro veritate occipitur’ means that a decree by a court of law having jurisdiction must be accepted as correct.
Conditions to Be Fulfilled for Res Judicata to Be Operative
Five conditions need to be fulfilled for the application of the doctrine of res judicata. They are:
- The matter directly and substantially in issue in the subsequent suit must be the same matter which was directly and substantially in issue either actually, i.e., Explanation III to Section 11, or constructively, i.e., Explanation IV, in the former suit, i.e., Explanation I. This condition has to be read with Explanation VII.
- The previous suit and subsequent suit must be between the same parties or their representatives. This condition is to be read with Explanation VI.
- The plaintiff and the defendant in both suits must be litigating under the same title as in the previously decided suit.
- The court which passed a decree in the former suit must have had jurisdiction to try the suit, which was filed subsequently. This condition is to be read with Explanations II and VIII.
- The matter directly and substantially in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided by the competent court in the former suit. This condition is to be read with Explanation V.
It is important that the matter in issue may be an issue of fact, an issue of law, or an issue of a mix of law and fact. “Matter in issue” means the rights litigated between the parties, i.e., the facts on which the right is claimed and the law applicable to the determination of that issue. The matter in issue could be:
- Directly and substantially in issue as ‘actually in issue’ or ‘constructively in issue’. Such a subject matter will operate as res judicata in any suit filed subsequently to it. Here ‘directly’ means directly, at once, immediately, without intervention, and ‘substantially’ means essentially, materially, or in a substantial manner. For example, Sam sues Cam for rent due. The defence of Cam is that no rent is due. Here the claim for rent is the matter in respect of which the relief is claimed. The claim of rent is, therefore, a matter directly and substantially in issue.
- Matter collaterally or incidentally in the issue. Decisions on matter collateral or incidental to the main issue in a case will not operate as res judicata. For example, A sues B for the rent due. B pleads a reduction of rent on the ground that the actual area of the land is less than that mentioned in the lease deed. The court, however, finds out that the area is greater than that mentioned in the lease deed. The finding as to the excess area is not res judicata as it is ancillary and incidental to the direct and substantial issue.
It must be noted that findings on all issues will operate as res judicata, however, finding on a question not in issue will not operate as res judicata.
Res Judicata: Miscellaneous
- The doctrine of res judicata applies to execution proceedings
- If a suit is dismissed because of a default, then it cannot be said that the matter was ‘heard and finally decided.
- Res judicata does not apply to consent decrees.
- It might not apply if there is a change in circumstances, but it depends on the facts of the case and may vary from case to case.
Whether the Doctrine of Res Judicata Is Applicable to Writ Petitions Under Article 32 or 226 of the Indian Constitution?
The court expanded the scope of the doctrine of res judicata in Daryo v. State of U.P.[ii] The court said that if a writ petition is filed in the High Court of a state under Article 226 and is considered on merits and dismissed, then it would bind the parties, and the decision would act as final, and if a subsequent petition is filed under petition under Article 32 by an original petition in the Supreme Court then the doctrine of res judicata will apply. However, an appeal is allowed. If the petition in a High Court is dismissed because there was an alternative remedy available, then it cannot be said to be decided on merits and would not operate as res judicata. The important point to note here is that a decree must be passed on merits. Otherwise, it would not operate as res judicata. For example, if the petition is withdrawn, then in such a case, it would not operate as res judicata because no decree was passed.
The doctrine of res judicata is mandatory. It ousts the jurisdiction of the court. It must be applied and interpreted liberally. It results from the decision of the court. It is incorporated in the CPC to bring about a finality to the decision of the court and save the State’s resources otherwise, it may result in a multiplicity of decisions and hardship to the party against whom the subsequent suit is filed.
[i] AIR 1960 SC 941.
[ii] AIR 1961 SC 1457.