Res Judicata is a legal maxim of Latin origin which means the thing has been
Legal DoctrineThe 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 litigation).
- Re judicata pro
veritate occipitur (a judicial decision must be accepted as correct).
In India, the doctrine of Res Judicata is enshrined in Section 11 of Code of
Civil Procedure, 1908:
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.
In CORPUS JURIS (vol. 34, p.743), it has been stated: Res Judicata is a rule of
universal law pervading every well-regulated system of jurisprudence and is put
upon two grounds, embodied in various maxims of the common law: the one, public
policy, and necessity, which makes it to the interest of the state that there
should be an end to litigation: the other, the hardship to the individual that
he should not be vexed twice for the same cause.
The principle of res judicata is based on public policy.
What are the essentials of Res Judicata?
It is not every matter decided in a suit that will operate as Res Judicata in a
subsequent suit. To constitute a matter as res judicata following conditions
must be satisfied:
- The matter directly and substantially in issue in the subsequent suit.
Or issue must be the same matter which was directly and substantially in
issue either actually in the former suit.
- The former suit must have been a suit 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
- The court which decided the former suit must be 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.
Scope of Res Judicata
The sphere of res judicata as enshrined in Section 11 of CPC is not exhaustive,
it is ever-growing. The general doctrine is founded on considerations of high
public policy. It aims to achieve two objectives, namely, that there must be a
finality to litigation, and that individuals should not be harassed twice over
with the same kind of litigation.
This is well-settled that in order to decide the question whether a subsequent
proceeding is barred by res judicata, it is necessary to examine the question
with reference to the (i) forum or the competence of the court, (ii) parties and
their representatives, (iii) matters in issue, (iv) the final decision.
It enacts the rule of conclusiveness of judgements as to the points decided, in
every subsequent suit between the same parties. The doctrine of res judicata
means an issue attaining finality, will not be allowed to be re-agitated.
The principle of res judicata does not apply to bar appeal.
Res judicata and Public Interest Litigation
Even in a PIL, procedural law is applicable though not strictly. Hence, the
principle of res judicata is also applicable. Where the prior PIL relates to
illegal mining, subsequent PIL to protect the environment is not barred.
Writ Petitions and Res judicata
In M.S.M Shree Krishna, 1960, the Supreme Court held that the general principle
of res judicata applies even to a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the
Constitution of India. Thus, once the petition is filed under Article 32 by the
court, the subsequent petition is barred.
Similarly, a writ petition filed by a party under Article 226 is considered on
merit as a contested matter and is dismissed. The decision thus pronounced would
continue to bind unless it is otherwise modified or reversed in appeal or in
other appropriate proceedings.
The distinction between res judicata and estoppel
Res Judicata is sometimes treated as part of the doctrine of estoppel, but the
two are essentially different. Res judicata is the result of a decision of a
court of law, whereas estoppel is the result of the act of parties.
The object of the rule of res judicata is to bring an end to the litigation.
Whereas the object of the rule of estoppel is to prevent a person who by his
conduct induced another to alter his position to his disadvantage.
The jurisdiction of the court is ousted by res judicata, whereas estoppel is
only a rule of evidence. The plea of res judicata presupposes the truth of the
decision in the former suit whereas the rule of estoppel simply prevents a
person from denying what he has once called the truth.
When is the plea of res judicata not applicable?
The Supreme Court has set down 3 exceptions to the rule of Res Judicata.
- The judgment is passed without jurisdiction.
- The matter includes an unadulterated question of law.
- The judgement obtained in the court was by fraudulent means.
What happens in case of an erroneous decision?
Even an erroneous decision on a question of law operates as res judicata between
the parties to it. The correctness or otherwise of a judicial decision has no
bearing upon the question whether or not it operates as res judicata. A decision
in the previous execution case between the parties that the matter was not
within the competence of the executing court even though erroneous, is binding
on the parties.
The principle of res judicata is an important element of the Indian legal
system. It is even applicable to most other jurisdictions of the world. It
essentially determines the finality of a suit. The principle is not only
restricted to civil courts. But is also applicable to the administrative law and
other legislations in India.