RES JUDICATA

“ To Re-Litigate Or Not to Re-Litigate”, that is the question!

The doctrine of res judicata becomes applicable where there is more than one petition filed in the same or in some other court of India with the same parties and same facts. If either of the parties in a case approaches the same court for the judgment of the same issue then the suit will be struck by the doctrine of res judicata. The Commonwealth nations were of the view that once the matter had been brought to trial, it must not be tried again. The word ‘Res’ means ‘subject matter’ and ‘judicata’ means ‘adjudged’. Thus, “Res Judicata” means “matter adjudged”. In simple words, the thing has been already decided by the court cannot be taken up by another court on the same matter & between the same parties. It is to be noted that Res judicata applies to both civil and criminal matter.

The doctrine of res judicata had been explained in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi where an appeal was made by landlords who attained a decree for ejectment against Deorajin Debi and her minor son. After the decree was made, the landlords did not get the possession. It was also learned that an application under section 28 of the Calcutta Thika Tenancy Act was also made by the tenants. The court held that the previous decision by the previous court stood correct and therefore the matter was closed stating the doctrine of res judicata.

This doctrine is applied only to avoid unnecessary waste of the time of the court by again hearing the same matter of the same parties involved in the same or a different court in India. In the absence of such a rule there will be no end to litigation and the parties would be put to constant trouble, harassment and expenses. Now, Res Judicata should not be confused with Double Jeopardy. Double Jeopardy means the constitutional protection of a person from facing punishment more than once for the same criminal offense. In essence, the double jeopardy clause holds that once an accused person has been acquitted, convicted, or punished for a particular crime, they cannot be prosecuted or punished again for the same crime in the same jurisdiction[1].

Double jeopardy applies only in criminal court cases whereas Res Judicata is relevant to administrative, constitutional and criminal law as well. Res judicata includes two related concepts: claim preclusion, and issue preclusion (also called collateral estoppel). Issue preclusion bars the re-litigation of factual issues that have already been necessarily determined by a judge or jury as part of an earlier claim[2]. Claim preclusion focuses on barring a suit from being brought again on a legal cause of action that has already been finally decided between the parties[3].

LANDMARK CASES

The case of Daryao v. State of Uttar Pradesh is an historic case where the universal application of doctrine of res judicata was established. In this case, the petitioners filed a writ petition under Article 226 of the constitution of India, but, unfortunately for them, the suit was dismissed. The petitioners then filed the case under Article 32 of the constitution of India. The defendants raised an objection regarding the petition by asserting that the prior decision of the High Court would be operated as res judicata[4]. According to the court, if a petition is filed by the petitioner in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution and is dismissed on the basis of merits, it would be operated as res judicata to bar a similar petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.

In the case of Avtar Singh v. Jagjit Singh, a civil suit was filed for the contention regarding the arbitration of the Court. The court sustained the objection and also returned the plaint as the revenue court had no jurisdiction. When the case was again filed in the civil court, the defendant contended that the suit was barred by the doctrine of res judicata.

In the case of Henderson v. Henderson, the English Court confirmed that a party cannot raise a claim in litigation which was raised in the previous suit. There were two brothers, Bethel and Jordan Henderson who became business partners and operated both in Bristol and Newfoundland. It so happened that the wife of Jordan Henderson was appointed as the administrator (because the father died) and she brought legal proceedings in the Court claiming that her father-in-law failed to provide an account as executor of the will. The Court of Appeal held that there was no estoppel by convention and that the proceedings were an abuse.

CASES WHERE RES JUDICATA DOES NOT APPLY

The principle of res judicata does not apply in the Writ of Habeas Corpus as far as High Courts are concerned. Also, a proper reason is to be given by the court to apply the doctrine of res judicata. These exceptions are usually known as collateral attacks which are based mainly on the issues on jurisdiction. In the case of Instalment Supply private limited vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that assessment of each year is final for that year and will not govern in the subsequent years. Thus, in income tax matters, the doctrine of res judicata does not apply. An appeal was made in the case of P. Bandhopadhya and others v. Union of India and others, where the appellants asserted that they would be entitled to receive an amount as damages. The SC however was of the view that the appellants were not entitled to any damages under the Pension Rules 1972.

CONCLUSION

India being a country with huge population and the number of pending cases state that in those pending cases, there may be some of the cases which are related to res judicata. It is not possible for a judge to remember that what cases were decided when or it can also be that when the aggrieved party brings the case again, the judge is changed due to retirement or by transfer. So, to curb this issue, according to me, there should a separate section in the court room where the cases relating to res judicata are solved.


[1]  Robert Longley-What Is Double Jeopardy? Legal Definition and Examples, What Is Double Jeopardy? Legal Definition and Examples (thoughtco.com), visited on 29-07-2021 at 12:37hrs.

[2] Ishita Dwivedi-Res Judicata, Res Judicata – Aishwarya Sandeep, visited on 29-07-2021 at 12:59hrs.

[3] IBID.

[4]  Madhuri Pilania-Doctrine of Res Judicata, Meaning, Nature & scope of Legal doctrine of Res Judicata under Section 11 of Code of civil Procedure (ipleaders.in), visited on 29-07-2021 at 13:40hrs.

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