Res judicata is the Latin term for “a matter already judged”, and refers to the legal doctrine meant to bar continued litigation of cases that have already been decided between the same parties. Res Judicata is a rule of universal law pervading every well regulated system of jurisprudence and is based upon a practical necessity that there should be an end to litigation and the hardship to the individual if he is vexed twice for the same cause. Thus, this doctrine is a fundamental concept based on public policy and private interest. It is conceived in the larger public interest, which requires that every litigation must come to an end. It therefore, applies to all kinds of suits such as civil suits, execution proceedings, arbitration proceedings, taxation matters, writ petitions, administrative orders, interim orders, and criminal proceedings.
The doctrine of res judicata is based on three maxims:-
- Nemo debet lis vaxari pro eadem causa (no man should be vexed twice for the same cause)
- Interest republicae ut sit finis litium ( it is in the interest of the state that there should be an end to a litigation);
- Re judicata pro veritate occipitur (a judicial decision must be accepted as correct)
Section 11 of CPC provides that no Court shall try any suit or issue, in which the matter directly and substantially in issue, has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit between the same parties, or between the parties under whom they or any of them claim litigating, under the same title, in a Court competent to try such subsequent suit, or the suit in which the issue has been subsequently raised, and has been heard and finally decided by such Court.
Justice Das Gupta in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal vs. Deorjin Debi explained the doctrine of res judicata. “The principle of Res Judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to the judicial decisions. What it says is that once a case is res 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 canvas the matter again.”
Essential elements required to constitute a matter of res judicata are:-
- The matter in issue in a subsequent suit must directly and substantially be same as in the previous suit.
- The former suit must have been between the same parties or between parties under whom they or any of them claim.
- Such parties must have been litigating under the same title in the former suit.
- The court which decided the former suit must be a court competent to try the subsequent suit or the suit in which such issue is subsequently raised.
- The matter directly and substantially in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided by the court in the former suit.
Exceptions to application
Res judicata does not restrict the appeals process, which is considered a linear extension of the same lawsuit as the suit travels up (and back down) the appellate court ladder.
The provisions of section 11 of the Code are mandatory and the ordinary litigant who claims under one of the parties to the former suit can only avoid its provisions by taking advantage of section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act which defines with precision the grounds of such evidence as fraud or collusion. It is not for the court to treat negligence or gross negligence as fraud or collusion unless fraud or collusion is the proper inference from facts.
In Beliram & Brothers and Others v. Chaudari Mohammed Afzal and Others it was held that where it is established that the minors suit was not brought by the guardian of the minors bona fide but was brought in collusion with the defendants and the suit was a fictitious suit, a decree obtained therein is one obtained by fraud and collusion within the meaning of section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, and does not operate res judicata. The principle of res judicata in section 11 CPC is modified by section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, and the principles will not apply if any of the three grounds mentioned in Section 44 exists.
Constructive Res Judicata
Rule of constructive res judicata is engrafted under Explanation IV of Section 11 of the Code. It is artificial form of res judicata and provides that if a plea could have been taken by a party in a proceeding between him and his opponent, he should not be permitted to take that plea against the same party in a subsequent proceeding with reference to the same subject-matter. That clearly is opposed to considerations of public policy on which the doctrine of res judicata is based and would mean harassment and hardship to the opponent. Besides, if such a course is allowed to be adopted, the doctrine of finality of judgments pronounced by the courts would also be materially affected.
Thus, it helps in raising the bar of res judicata by suitably construing the general principle of subduing a cantankerous litigant. That is why this rule is called constructive res judicata, which, in reality, is an aspect or amplification of the general principle of res judicata.
In State of UP vs. Nawab Hussain, (AIR 1977 SC 1680) A, a sub-inspector of police was dismissed from service by D.I.G. He challenged the order of dismissal by filing a writ petition in the high court on the ground that he was not afforded a reasonable opportunity of being heard before the passing of the order. The contention was, however, negated and the petition was dismissed. He then filed a suit and raised an additional ground that science he was appointed by the I.G.P., the D.I.G. had no power to dismiss him. The state contended that the suit was barred by constructive res judicata. The trial court, appellate court and the high court held that suit was not barred, but the Supreme Court held that the suit was barred by constructive res judicata as the plea was within the knowledge of the plaintiff and could well have been taken in the earlier writ petition.
Ex parte decree and Res Judicata
An ex parte decree, unless it is set aside, is a valid and enforceable decree. However, the real test for res judicata is whether the case was decided on merits. The real test for deciding whether the judgment has been given on merits or not is to see whether it was merely formally passed as a matter of course, or by way of penalty for any conduct of the defendant, or is based upon a consideration of the truth or falsity of the plaintiff’s claim, notwithstanding the fact that the evidence was led by him in the absence of the defendant. Thus, a decree may not act as res judicata merely because it was passed ex parte.