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Res judicata is a plea prescribed under section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure. It is a doctrine applied to give finality to a lis in original or appellate proceedings. The doctrine in substance means that an issue or a point decided and having attained finality, should not be allowed to be re-opened and re-agitated over again.
The meaning of “res” is “everything that may form an object of rights and includes an object, subject matter or status” and res judicata means “a matter adjudged; a thing judicially acted upon or decided; a thing or matter settled by judgement”
All civilized legal system have accepted the doctrine of res judicata. Under the Roman Law, a defendant could successfully contest a suit filed by a plaintiff on the plea of “ex captio res judicata”. It was said, “one suit and one decision are enough for any single dispute”.
The doctrine of res judicata have their roots on the following three maxims:
Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa – no man should be vexed twice for the same cause;
Interest reipubliace ut sit finis litium – it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to a litigation;
Res judicata pro veritate occipitur – a judicial decision must be accepted as correct.
The doctrine of res judicata is founded on the principles of equity, justice, and good conscience. The doctrine applies to all civil and criminal proceedings and equally to all quasi-judicial proceedings before tribunals. Section 11 of the Code is applicable to both the parties to a suit and not against the defendant alone. The principle of res judicata is furtherance against the court and is a mixed question of the fact and law and has to be specifically pleaded.
Justice Das Gupta, in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi has explained the doctrine of res judicata in the most simplest way which is as follows:
“The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to judicial decisions. What it says is that once a res is judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. Primarily it applies as between past litigation and future litigation. When a matter, whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has been decided between two parties in one suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken to a higher court or because the appeal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter again.”
Conditions for 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:
- Matter in a suit – A matter cannot be said to have been directly and substantially in issue in a suit unless it is alleged by one party and denied or admitted, either expressly or by necessary implication.
- Same parties or parties under whom any of them claim – Parties are a person whose name is on the record at the time of the decision, and a party may be a person who has intervened in the suit.
- Litigation under the same title – That the parties to the subsequent suit must have litigated under the same title in the former suit.
- Competent Court – In the subsequent suit, it is necessary that the court which tried the former suit must have been a court competent to try the subsequent suit.
- Finality – When the court has exercised its judicial mind and has, after argument and consideration, come to a decision on a contested matter.
Res Judicata and Withdrawal of Suit
Order 23, Rule 1 of the code deals with the withdrawal of suits. It provides that where the plaintiff withdraws the suit or abandons his claim without the leave of the court, he will be precluded from instituting a fresh suit in respect of the same cause of action.
The contrast between res judicata and withdrawal of suit is the way that while in the previous the issue is heard and later settled by the parties, in the latter the plaintiff himself withdraw or relinquishes his case before it is adjudicated on merits.
Res Judicata and Estoppel
Estoppel is part of the law of evidence and, prevents a person from saying one thing at one time and contradicting it later, while res judicata precludes a man from avowing the same thing in successive litigation.
Justice Mahumad in Sita Ram v. Amir Begam stated that perhaps the shortest way to describe the difference between the plea of res judicata and an estoppel, is to say that whilst the former prohibits the court from entering into an inquiry at all as to a matter already adjudicated upon, the latter prohibits a party after the inquiry has already been entered upon, from proving anything which would contradict his own previous declarations or acts, to the prejudice of another party who, relying upon those declarations or acts, has altered his position. In other words, res judicata prohibits an inquiry whereas estoppel is only a piece of evidence.
Res Judicata between co-defendants
Res judicata between co-defendants is a kind of situation where a conflict of interest arose between co-defendant whereby it is necessary to decide the conflict in order to grant relief to the plaintiff. If it is not necessary to decide the issue between co-defendants for granting relief to the plaintiff or if the plaintiff is not concerned with the dispute between co-defendants inter se, or if there is no conflict of interest between the defendants inter se such determination will not operate as res judicata between the co-defendants.
If in a suit filed by A against B and C, there is a matter directly and substantially in issue between B and C, and an adjudication upon the matter is necessary to the determination of the suit, the adjudication may operate as res judicata in a subsequent suit between B and C, in which either of them is plaintiff and the other defendant.
Explanation VI to Section 11 deals with representative suits, i.e. suits instituted by or against a person in his representative, as distinguished from individual character. It provides that where persons litigate bona fide in respect of a public right, or a private right claimed in common for themselves and others, all persons interested in such right shall, for the purpose of this section, be deemed to ‘claim under’ the persons litigating.
Suits brought or defended by one or more person on behalf of themselves and others with the leave of the court under Order I Rule 8, are common instances of this class.
The conditions under which the decision in such a suit may constitute res judicata against the parties to a suit are as follows:
- The must be a right claimed by one or more persons in common for themselves and others not expressly named in the suit;
- The parties must have implied interest in the suit despite not being named;
- The litigation must have been conducted for interested parties in a bonafide manner; and
- If the suit is under Order 1 Rule 8 where all the conditions therein have been strictly complied with.
Public Interest Litigation
The public interest litigation has emerged in the forms of writs. Explanation VI applies to the public interest litigation, but it must be proved that the previous litigation was public interest litigation and not by the way of a private grievance.
In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of UP it was observed that every technicality in procedural law is not available as defence when a matter of grave public importance is for consideration before the court, even if there is a final order in a dispute of the type under consideration, it would be difficult to entertain the plea of res judicata.
Res Judicta and Writs
The doctrine of res judicata also applies to writ proceedings under Article 32 of the Constitution. In a writ petition under Article 226 filed before the High Court, challenging the detention of a person is dismissed and subsequently, a writ petition under Article 32 is filed before the Supreme Court, with some additional point not raised before the High Court, the agitation of these additional points before the court will not be barred.
The Supreme Court in the landmark case of Daryao v. State of U.P. has extensively dealt with the question of applicability of the principle of res judicata in writ proceedings and laid down certain principles which may be summarised thus:
- When a petition under Article 226 is considered, contested on merits and is dismissed, the decision would continue to bind the parties unless it is otherwise modified or reversed by appeal or other appropriate proceedings as prescribed under the Constitution.
- It would not be open to a party to ignore the said judgement and more the Supreme Court under Article 32 by an original petition made on the same facts and for obtaining the same or similar orders or writs.
- A dismissal of writ petition under Article 226 by any High Court not on merit but due to laches of the petitioner or when the party have an alternative remedy available with them, the dismissal for the writ petition would not constitute a bar to a subsequent petition under Article 32.
- Such a dismissal may, however, constitute a bar to a subsequent application under Article 32 where and if the facts thus found by the High Court by themselves relevant even under Article 32.
- Whether the writ petition would constitute a bar would depend upon the nature of the order. There will no bar if the order is on merits.
- If the petition is dismissed in the timeline without a speaking order, such dismissal cannot be treated as creating a bar of res judicata.
Power of court to correct errors
“One of the first and highest duties of all courts is to take care that the act of the court does no injury to the suitors”. It has been said that “an act of court shall harm none” (actus curiae neminem gravabit). All courts, therefore are bound to take care that their acts do not cause harm or injury to suitors.
In the leading case of A.R. Antulay v. R.S.Nayak , the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ordered the withdrawal of a case against the appellant pending in the court of a Special Judge and transferred it to the High Court of Bombay. A preliminary objection was raised by the appellant against the jurisdiction of the High Court. It was, however, negatived by the court. The appellant then approached that Supreme Court. It was contended that the direction was contrary to law and could not have been issued. The arguments of the respondent were of res judicata.
Supreme Court also observed that when an appeal is allowed by recalling the earlier order, the said act amounts to violative of fundamental rights of the appellant and doctrine of res judicata should not be applicable in such situation.
Avoidance of Res Judicata
The jurisdiction of a court cannot be affected by the plea of res judicata. It is a plea in bar, which a party may waive. If a party does not raise the plea of res judicata, it will be deemed to be a matter directly and substantially in issue and decided against him. Where a party fails to raise such a plea at the proper stage of the suit or proceedings, it will be deemed to have been waived. The waiver of such plea has to be decided on the facts and circumstances of each case.
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