The article 'Res-Judicata: Meaning, Application and Explanation' explores how res judicata promotes judicial efficiency, prevents harassment through repetitive litigation, and upholds the sanctity of final judgments

The article 'Res-Judicata: Meaning, Application and Explanation' explores how res judicata promotes judicial efficiency, prevents harassment through repetitive litigation, and upholds the sanctity of final judgments


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”[1]

All civilized legal systems have accepted the doctrine of res judicata. Under 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”.

Iftikhar Ahmed v. Syed Meharban Ali, AIR 1974 SC 749:

In the case of Iftikhar Ahmed v. Syed Meharban Ali (AIR 1974 SC 749), a dispute over the bhumidari rights of certain properties was referred to arbitration under the U.P. Consolidation of Holdings Act. The first arbitrator, relying on a prior High Court judgment, held that the respondents had no title as bhumidars, based on the doctrine of res judicata. The judgment in question resulted from a suit between the parties' predecessors, where the High Court determined that the appellant's predecessor alone was entitled to the properties.

However, the Civil Judge set aside the award, stating that the prior judgment did not operate as res judicata. Subsequently, a second arbitrator determined the parties were cobhumidars, and the Civil Judge, along with the High Court, confirmed this decision.

The Supreme Court held that for a judgment to operate as res judicata between co-plaintiffs, there must be a conflict of interest, a necessity to decide the conflict, and an actual decision by the court. In this case, the prior judgment satisfied these conditions, and the first arbitrator's award was restored, as it was an error of law to disregard the res judicata effect of the High Court judgment. The Court also noted that the Arbitration Act applied to proceedings under the U.P. Consolidation of Holdings Act.

State of U.P. v. Nawab Hussain, AIR 1977 SC 1680:

In the case of State of U.P. v. Nawab Hussain, AIR 1977 SC 1680, the respondent, who was dismissed from service, filed a writ petition under Article 226 challenging his dismissal, contending that he had not been given a reasonable opportunity to address the allegations against him. The writ petition was dismissed, prompting the respondent to file a civil suit challenging his dismissal on various grounds, including the argument that since he was appointed by the Inspector-General of Police, his dismissal by the Deputy Inspector General of Police was incorrect.

The State argued that the suit was barred by res judicata. The trial court disagreed, stating it was not barred, and the High Court, relying on a misinterpretation of Supreme Court decisions, agreed. The Supreme Court corrected this error, emphasizing that the doctrine of constructive res judicata applies to writ petitions and that the respondent, having failed to raise the plea in the earlier writ petition, was barred from raising it in the subsequent suit. The Court concluded that the High Court's view was erroneous, and the appeal by the State was allowed.


The doctrine of res judicata has its roots in 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.[2] The doctrine applies to all civil and criminal proceedings and equally to all quasi-judicial proceedings before tribunals.[3] 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.[4]

Justice Das Gupta, in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi[5] has explained the doctrine of res judicata in the 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.”

C.A. Balakrishnan v. Commissioner Corporation of Madras, AIR 2003 Mad. 170:

In the case of C.A. Balakrishnan v. Commissioner Corporation of Madras (AIR 2003 Mad. 170), the petitioner sought a writ of mandamus to restore possession of premises housing "Udipi Canteen" in the Rippon Building Compound, Madras. The petitioner claimed to be a lessee and had run the canteen for about 16 years. The Corporation took action to seal the premises, citing irregularities. The petitioner filed a suit for restoration of possession, which was later decreed ex parte. However, the petitioner also filed a writ petition seeking similar relief.

The court ruled that Order II, Rule 2 of the Civil Procedure Code applies to writ petitions, emphasizing that a person precluded from filing a second suit for the same cause of action is similarly barred from invoking the writ jurisdiction for the same reliefs. The court dismissed the writ petition, stating that the petitioner could proceed with the decree in the civil suit.

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:[6]

  • 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.[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • Litigation under the same title – That the parties to the subsequent suit must have litigated under the same title in the former suit.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • Finality – When the court has exercised its judicial mind and has, after argument and consideration, come to a decision on a contested matter.[11]

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 withdraws 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.[12]

Justice Mahumad in Sita Ram v. Amir Begam[13] stated that perhaps the shortest way to describe the difference between the plea of res judicata and 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 arises between co-defendants whereby it is necessary to decide the conflict in order to grant relief to the plaintiff.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

Representative Suit

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 persons on behalf of themselves and others with the leave of the court under Order I Rule 8 are common instances of this class.[17]

The conditions under which the decision in such a suit may constitute res judicata against the parties to a suit are as follows:[18]

  1. The must be a right claimed by one or more persons in common for themselves and others not expressly named in the suit;
  2. The parties must have implied interest in the suit despite not being named;
  3. The litigation must have been conducted for interested parties in a bonafide manner; and
  4. If the suit is under Order 1 Rule 8 where all the conditions therein have been strictly complied with.[19]

Public Interest Litigation

Public interest litigation has emerged in the form of writs. Explanation VI applies to public interest litigation, but it must be proved that the previous litigation was public interest litigation and not by way of a private grievance.[20]

In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of UP[21] it was observed that every technicality in procedural law is not available as a 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 points not raised before the High Court, the agitation of these additional points before the court will not be barred.[22]

The Supreme Court in the landmark case of Daryao v. State of U.P.[23] 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 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 move 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 a 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 be 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 [24], 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 the 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 the fundamental rights of the appellant and the doctrine of res judicata should not be applicable in such a 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.[25] 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.[26] The waiver of such a plea has to be decided on the facts and circumstances of each case.[27]

[1] Escorts Farms Ltd v. Commissioner, Kumaon Division, Nainital, AIR 2004 SC 2186

[2] Lal Chand v. Radha Krishna, AIR 1977 SC 789

[3] Sulochana Amma v. Narayatianan Nair, AIR 1994 SC 152

[4] R Govindasamy v. Kasturi Ammal, AIR 1998 Mad 218

[5] AIR 1960 SC 941

[6] Lonakutty v. Thoman, AIR 1976 SC 1645

[7] ibid

[8] Gobind v. Taruck, (1878) ILR 3 Cal 145

[9] Koshal Pal v. Mohan Pal, AIR 1976 SC 688

[10] Gopi Nath v. Bhagwat Prasad, (1884) ILR 10 Cal 697

[11] Gur Prasad v. Gur Prasad, AIR 1944 Oudh 321

[12] Radha Rani v. Binoda Moyee, AIR 1942 Cal 92

[13] (1886) ILR 8 All 324

[14] Ferro Alloys Corp. v. UOI, AIR 1999 SC 1236

[15] Mahoob Sahab v. Syed Ismail, AIR 1995 SC 1205

[16] Barkat Ali v. Karim Baksh, AIR 1932 Lah 325

[17] Diwakar Srivastava v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1949 SC 468

[18] Surender Nath v. Brojo Nath, (1886) ILR 13 Cal 352

[19] Babu Khan v. Hukum Singh, AIR 1947 All 88

[20] Forward Construction Co & Ors v. Prabhat Mandal & Ors, (1986) 1 SCC 100

[21] (1989) Supp 1 SCC 504

[22] Municipal Copn. Of Ahmedabad v. Jyotindra, 20 Guj LR 90

[23] AIR 1961 SC 1457

[24] AIR 1988 SC 1531

[25] Moturi v. Sri Rajah Venkatadri, (1916) 31 MLJ 219

[26] Nazim Ali v. Anjuman Islamia, (1999) 3 SCC 91

[27] State of Punjab v. BD Kaushal, AIR 1971 SC 1676

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Updated On 10 Jan 2024 5:06 AM GMT
Subham Agrawal

Subham Agrawal

Subham is a law graduate from DSNLU - Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University.

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