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Critical Analysis of Doctrine of Res Judicata and Res Subjudice

Effective and efficient functioning of courts is very essential for speedy disposal of cases in the country. The present legal system lays down several principles to ensure that the rules and doctrines when implemented accordingly leads to increase in judicial efficiency. The Doctrine of Res Judicata and Res Sub Judice are two important doctrines that is basically founded on the principle of justice, equity and good conscience.

Res Judicata

In case of Res Judicata, a matter once decided cannot be raised again, either in the same court or in a different court. This is why it is also called as claim preclusion as it precludes or prohibits any further claims after the final judgment. It is a common law practice meant to bar re-litigation of cases between the same parties in the court.

The doctrine of Res Judicata come from the full maxim Res judicata pro veritate accipitur. The concept of Res Judicata evolved from the English Common Law system, and was derived from the overriding concept of judicial economy, consistency, and finality. From the common law, it got included in the Code of Civil Procedure,1908 (Herein referred to as CPC) which was later as a whole was adopted by the Indian legal system.

Purpose of Res judicata

Res Judicata aims to prevent;
  1. Injustice to the parties of a case that has been supposedly concluded by providing closure to a judgment and precluding any further claims
  2. Unnecessary waste of court resources
  3. Multiplying of judgments as further claims would lead to several varied judgements on the same matter which will lead to confusion
  4. Recovery of damages from the defendant twice for the same injury

Doctrine of res judicata or rule of conclusive judgement is based on the following three maxims:
  • Nemo debet lis vexari pro eadem causa no man to 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 end to litigation.
  • Re judicata pro veritate occipitur a judicial decision should be accepted as correct.
The Supreme Court observed that the first legal maxim takes care of the private interest and the next two of the larger interest of the society.[1]

Res Judicata under Indian law

Res judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of the judgment has been embodied in the Indian law under Section 11 of the code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It enacts that once a matter is finally decided by a competent Court, no party can be permitted to reopen it in a subsequent litigation. Section 11 states 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 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 such issue has been subsequently raised, and has been heard and finally decided by such Court.

Ingredients and essentials of section 11:

According to this section, no court shall try any suit or issue in which:
  1. The matter in issue (directly and substantially) has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit.
  2. Such matter in the former suit had been between the same parties or between parties claiming under them
  3. The matter must be litigated under the same title in a court competent to try such suit or a suit in which the matter has been subsequently raised and has been heard and finally decided by such court

Mandatory Provision:

Further, it must be noted that Section 11 is a mandatory provision and not directory in nature. The only exception in which a former suit can be avoided on grounds of fraud or collusion.[2]

The same was discussed in a case where the court held that when it was established that the guardian of the minor had acted in collusion with the defendant,[3] it doesn't operate as res judicata and can be set aside by invoking Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872. Further, in the case the court held that, gross negligence in former suit doesn't amount to fraud or collusion and thus acts as bar to subsequent suit.[4]

The following are also to be taken into account:

  • Former suit denotes a suit which has been decided prior to the suit in question, and not if it was prior to this suit. i.e. The cut-off is date of judgement and not the date of institution of the suit.
  • Competency of a court is to be decided, irrespective of the right to appeal from a former suit.
  • The matter referred to in this suit must have been alleged by one party and either accepted or refused by the other party (expressly/impliedly).
  • Any matter which might or ought to have been made ground of attack/defence in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit (constructive res judicata).
  • If any relief was claimed in plaint and was not granted expressly, it would be deemed to have been refused in such former suit.
  • When persons litigate bonafide in respect of a public/private right claimed in common for themselves and others, all persons interested for the purpose of section 11, will be deemed as claiming under persons litigating

Public Interest Litigations:

In case of res judicata, a Public Interest Litigation can be applicable only when the former suit was bonafide in nature and that it will not act as a shield in cases where public good is threatened or questioned.

In a case the Supreme Court observed that the writ petition before them was not an inter-party dispute and the controversy in it was whether mining was to be allowed or not.[5] Thus, it was a matter that decided the social safety and providing hazardous free environment. It was further discussed by the court that this matter was of grave public importance and therefore, res judicata could not be used as a shield.

The doctrine of res judicata applies to quasi-judicial proceedings before tribunals also.[6] In case of Sulochana Amma vs Narayanan Nair, the Court held that the decree of District Munsif Court though of limited pecuniary jurisdiction would operate as res-judicata in the subsequent suit between the same parties. In a suit for an injunction when the title is in issue for the purpose of granting an injunction, the issue directly and substantially arises in that suit between the parties.

When the same issue is put in a later suit based on the title between the same parties or their privies in a subsequent suit the decree in the injunction suit equally operates as res judicata. Therefore, even the decree founded on equitable relief in which the issue was directly and substantially in issue and decided and attained finality would operate as res judicata in a subsequent suit based on the title where the same issue directly and substantially arises between the parties.[7]

The doctrine of res judicata applies to the plaintiff as well as the defendant.[8] The court held in case of Govindaswamy v. Kasturi Ammal 1998, that the correctness or otherwise of a judicial decision has no bearing upon whether or not it operates as res judicata.[9]

The court held in the case of Umayal Achi v MPM Ramanathan Chettiar that the correctness or otherwise of a judicial decision has no bearing upon whether or not it operates as res judicata.

Application of res judicata

The doctrine of res judicata can be invoked even in the subsequent stage of the same proceedings. An order is made in the course of the proceedings, it becomes final and therefore would be binding upon the parties at any subsequent stages of the same proceedings.9 This doctrine can also apply against co-defendants.

The court held the following four conditions must be satisfied for the application of Res judicata:

  1. there must be a conflict of interest between the defendants concerned
  2. it must be necessary to decide such conflicts, in order to give relief to the plaintiff
  3. the questions between the defendants to be finally decided.
  4. co-defendants to be necessary and proper parties to the suit.[10]

Further, this doctrine can be applied even between co-plaintiffs.
The court held that if the following three conditions are satisfied res judicata will be applicable:
  1. there must be a conflict of interest between the co-plaintiffs
  2. it must be necessary to decide such conflicts, in order to give relief to the plaintiff
  3. the questions between the plaintiffs to be finally decided.[11]

Non-application of res judicata

Habeas corpus petitions: Habeas corpus, filed under fresh grounds and changed circumstances will not be barred by a previous such petition.[12]

Dismissal of writ petition in limine: Res judicata not applicable when dismissed in limine or on grounds of laches or availability of alternate remedies.[13]
Matter collaterally and incidentally in issue doesn't operate as res judicata.[14]

Res Sub Judice
When two or more cases are filed between the same parties on the same subject matter, in two or more different Courts, the competent court has power to Stay Proceedings of another Court. The doctrine of res sub judice aims to prevent the courts of concurrent jurisdiction from simultaneously entertaining and adjudicating upon two parallel litigations with reference to the same cause of action, same subject matter and same relief claimed.

Application of Res Sub Judice in India

Section 10 of CPC defines Stay of suit as follows:
No Court to proceed with trail of any suit in which the matter in issue, is also directly and substantially in issue. In previously instituted suit between the same parties, or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, where such suit is pending in same or any other Court, in India, having jurisdiction to grant relief claimed.'

The pendency of a suit in a Foreign Court doesn't preclude the Courts in India from, trying a suit founded on same cause of action.

Scope, Nature and Objective of section 10
Section 10 deals with the concept of Res Sub Judice.
The principle of res sub-judice prevents the court from proceeding with the trial of any suit during which the matter in issue is directly or substantially the same with the previously instituted suit between equivalent parties and the court where the issue is previously instituted is pending has the power to grant the relief sought.

This rule is applicable to the trial of the suit and not the institution. It doesn't restrict the court from passing interim orders like injunction or stay. However, it applies to revisions and appeals.

The purpose behind this rule is to stop multiplicity of cases in courts. It is also sought to stop the plaintiff from getting two separate decisions from different courts in his favor or two contradictory judgements. It also ensures to guard the litigant from unnecessary harassment. The policy of law is to limit the plaintiff to at least one legislation, thus obviating the likelihood of two conflicting verdicts by one and therefore the same court in respect of the same relief.

Meaning of suit - The word suit has not been defined anywhere within the Code, but it's a proceeding which is commenced by presentation of a plaint. In Hansraj Gupta and Ors. vs. Official Liquidators of the Dehra Dun-Mussoorie Electric Tramway Co. Ltd., the Council has defined the expression suit as a civil proceeding instituted by presentation of a suit.[15]

In Pandurang Ramchandra vs. Shantibai Ramchandra, the Supreme Court has stated suit is to be understood to use on any proceeding in the court of justice by which a private individual pursues that remedy which the law affords.[16]

The object of Section 10 is to prevent Courts of concurrent jurisdiction from simultaneously, trying two parallel cases, in respect of same matter in issue. The two- fold objects are:
  • Avoid wasting Court Resources.
  • Avoid Conflicting decisions.
Conditions or essentials:
  • The matter in issue in both the cases are to be substantially the same
  • Previously instituted suit must be pending in the same or any other court competent to grant:
    • Relief claimed in the suit
    • Relief claimed in subsequent the suit.
    • Suits to the parties are to be the same or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title.
    • Pendency of suit in Foreign Court doesn't activate Section 10 CPC.
    • If suit is pending before a Court and subsequently an application is filed before a Thasildhar, it doesn't invoke Section 10 as Thasildhar is not a Court
    • For purpose of institution, the date of presentation of plaint and not the date of admission is considered. The term suit includes appeal.
    • Any decree passed in violation of Section 10 is null and void.

When a matter is before a competent Civil Court, the National Commission will not entertain a petition in respect of identical subject matter under Consumer Protection Act[17]
The court in this case held that, the object of prohibition in S.10 CPC, is to, prevent courts of concurrent jurisdiction from simultaneously trying two parallel cases avoid inconsistent findings on the matter in issue.[18]

With the ever-increasing cases in the courts and the heightened burden on the courts because of several frivolous and repetitive suits, it is inevitable that to ensure smooth functioning of the judicial system as well as for providing justice to needy parties that these two doctrines are rigorously implemented. These doctrines aren't and must not be used for the aim of avoidance of justice. Rather, the goal is to make the judiciary more efficient.

The doctrine of Res Sub Judice operates as a stay from the same subject matter in issue being parallel instituted in two different Courts and the twin objectives of Section 10 CPC are avoiding conflicting decisions and findings. Avoiding wastage of Court resources and time. The doctrine of Res Judicata, on the other hand, aims to ensure that a matter once closed after exhaustion of all remedies is not re-opened. This is important as if it were not in place, the cases would go on in perpetuity and there would be no conclusion in any matter.

  1. Ashok Kumar v National Insurance Company 1998
  2. Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872
  3. Beli Ram and Brothers v Chaudri Mohammad Afzal (1948) 50 BOMLR 674
  4. Jallur Venkata Seshayya v. Tahdaviconda Koteswara Rao, 1937
  5. Rural litigation and Entitlement Kendra v State of Uttar Pradesh, 1985 AIR 652, 1985 SCR (3) 169
  6. Slochana Amma v. Narayana Nair 1994 AIR 152 SCC (2) 14
  7. Sulochana Amma vs Narayanan Nair 1994 AIR 152 SCC (2) 14
  8. Govindaswamy v. Kasturi Ammal 1998 2 MLJ 291
  9. Umayal Achi And Anr. vs Ramanathan Chettiar (1980) 1 MLJ 24 9 Y.B. Patil v. Y.L.Patil 1977 AIR 392 SCR (1) 320
  10. Mahaboob Sahab v Syed Ismail 1995 AIR 120 1995 SCC (3) 693
  11. Iftikhar Ahmed v. Syed Meharban Ali 1974 AIR 749 SCR (3) 464
  12. Sunil Dutt v Union of India AIR 1982 SC 53
  13. Pujari Bai v Madan Gopal 1989 AIR 1764 SCR (3) 383
  14. Sayed Mohammad v Musa Ummer 1968 (9) Guj.L.R. 1002
  15. Hansraj Gupta and Ors. vs. Official Liquidators of the Dehra Dun-Mussoorie Electric Tramway Co. Ltd Privy Council Appeal No. 53 of 1938
  16. Pandurang Ramchandra vs. Shantibai Ramchandra 1989 AIR 2240 SCR
  17. Dees Piston Ltd vs. State Bank of India 1991 2 CPR 148
  18. Indian Bank V Maharashtra State Co-Operative Marketing Federation 1998
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Maryam Basheer - REVA University, Bengaluru
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: JL119655163021-14-0721

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