The Law Relating To Res Judicata

Introduction

The Code of Civil Procedure laid down the doctrine of res judicata  which enact that once a matter is finally decided by a competent court, no party can be permitted to reopen it in a subsequent litigation. In the absence of such rule there will be no end of litigation and parties would be put in constant trouble, harassment and expenses. Section 11 of the Code deals with issue releting to it.

History

The rule of res judicata  has a very ancient history. It was known to ancient Hindu Law as Purva Nyaya (former judgment). Under the Roman Law, it was recognised that “one suit one decision was enough for any single dispute”. This doctrine was accepted in the european continent and in the commonwealth countries.

Nature

Res” means “subject-matter” or “dispute” and “Judicata” means “adjudged”, “decided” or “adjudicated”. “Res Judicata” thus means “a matter adjudged” or “a dispute decided”. The doctrine of res judicata is conceived in the larger public interest which requires that all litigation must, sooner than latter, come to an end.

Object

The doctrine of res judicata is based on three maxims:

  1. nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa (no man should be vexed twice for the same cause);
  2. interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium (it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to a litigation); and
  3. res judicata pro veritate occipitur (a judicial decision must be accepted as correct).

Illustration

  • A sues B for possession of certain property alleging that it has come to his share on partition of joint family property. B’s contention that the partition has not taken place is upheld by the court and the suit is dismissed. A subsequent suit by A against B for partition of joint family property is not barred.
  • A sues B, C and D and in order to decide the claim of A, the court has to interpret a will. The decision regarding the construction of the will on rival claims of the defendants will operate as res judicata in any subsequent suit by any of the defendants against the rest.

Principle of Res Judicata

The principle of res juducata seeks to promote justice, equity and good conscience to prevent the law from abuse. When a matter whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has been decided between two parties in one suit or procceding and the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken to a higher court or because the appecal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to frame the matter again.

Pre-requisites of Res Judicata

The pre-requisites which are necessary for Res Judicata are:

  • There must be a final judgment;
  • The judgment must be on the merits;
  • The claims must be the same in the first and second suits;
  • The parties in the second action must be the same as those in the first, or have been.

Res Judicata and lis pendens

When a conflict arises between doctrine of lis pendens and res judicata, the doctrine of res judicata will prevail over doctrine of lis pendens. Once a judgement is duly pronounced by a competent court in regard to the subject matter of the suit in which the doctrine of lis pendens applies, the said decision would operate as res judicata and would bind not only the parties thereto but also the transferees pendente lite.

Applicability of Res Judicata to PIL, Arbitration and Award and Income tax Proceeding

  1. In the case of Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra v. the State of U.P, the court held that the doctrine of the res judicata cannot be applied in the cases of Public Interest Litigation.
  2. In the case of K.V. George v. Secretary to Govt, the court held that plea of Res Judicata cannot be raised in the cases of Arbitration and Rewards.
  3. The doctrine of Res Judicata is not been applied in the income tax proceedings. In the case of B.S.N.L vs. Union of India,the court held that the decision given for one assessment year does not operate as res judicata in the Subsequent year.

Exceptions to the Plea of Res Judicata

  1. Judgment in original suit obtained by the fraud – If a court thinks that the judgment of former suit is obtained by the fraud, then the doctrine of the res judicata is not applied.
  2. When previous SLP is dismissed – When special leave petition is dismissed without adjudication or decision then res judicata should not be applied. For obtaining  Doctrine of Res Judicata, the formal suit should be decided finally by the competent court.
  3. A different cause of action – Section 11 will not be applied when there is a different cause of action in the subsequent suits. The court cannot bar a subsequent suit if it contains the different cause of action.
  4. When there is Interlocutory Order – Interlocutory order is the interim order, decree or sentence passed by the court.  A principle of the Res Judicata will be not applied when an interlocutory order is passed on the former suit. It is because in Interlocutory order immediate relief is given to the parties and it can be altered by subsequent application and there is no finality of the decision.
  5. Waiver of a decree of Res Judicata –  Decree of Res Judicata is a plea in the bar which party must waive. If a party did not raise the plea of res judicata then the matter will be decided against him. It is the duty of an opposite party to make the court aware about the adjudication of matter in former suit. If a party fails to do so, the matter is decided against him.
  6. Court not competent to decide – When the former suit is decided by the court who has no jurisdiction to decide the matter then the doctrine of res judicata is not applied to the subsequent suit.
  7. When there is a change in Law –  When there is a change in the law and new laws bring new rights to the parties then such rights are not barred by Section 11.

Recent update related to Doctrine of Res Judicata

Res judicata applicable to Execution proceeding- The Supreme Court has observed that the principle of res judicata will apply to execution proceedings as well. The Court added that a “judgment debtor cannot be allowed to raise objections as to the method of execution in instalments. After having failed to raise the issue in four earlier rounds of litigation, the appellants cannot be permitted to raise it now”, the judgment authored by Justice Ramasubramanian observed. The judgment explained the the principle of res judicata will apply to Execution Proceedings as well.

Conclusion

The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving finality to judicial decisions. It says that once a res judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. The scope and areas of res judicata is not only limited to The Code Of Civil Procedure but also covers area which are related to social need. The Supreme Court of India has widened the scope of the doctrine of res judicata with recent and landmark judgements.

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