October 28, 2021

Res Judicata: Section 11 of Code of Civil Procedure

res judicarta

Introduction

Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 represents the doctrine of res-judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of judgement, as to the points determined earlier of fact, or of law, or of law and fact and in every consecutive suit between the identical parties. It legislates that once the matter is finally settled by a competent Court, no party can be allowed to reopen it in a subsequent litigation. In absence of such a rule there will be no end to litigation and the parties would be put to non stop dilemma, harassment and expenses.

Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deoraji Debi[1]

The actual meaning of “res” is “everything that may form an object of rights and includes an object subject-matter or status” and “judicata” means adjudged, adjudicated or decided. Thus, actually means: “a matter adjudged; a thing judicially acted upon or decided by judgment.

Escorts Farms v. Commissioner[2]

The doctrine of Res judicata is a very old doctrine. Under Roman law, it was recognised as ex-captio res judicata which indicates previous or former judgment. The principle of Res judicata is accepted in the larger public interest which involves that all litigations must, sooner or later, come to an end. The principle is also established on equity, justice and good conscience which demands that a party which has once succeeded on an issue should not be permitted to be harassed by a multiplicity of proceedings involving determination of the identical issue.

In Satyadham Ghosal v. Deorajin Debi[3], the Supreme Court made clear the principle of Res judicata in the following words:- “The principle of res judicata is established on the need of giving finality to judicial decisions, what it says is that once a res is judicata, it shall not be arbitrated again. When a matter, whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has been settled 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 because no appeal lies, neither party will be permitted to participate in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties.

In Lal Chand v. Radha Krishna[4], Chandrachud, J. interpreted the principle of Res judicata in the following words:

“Section 11 is long settled, is not comprehensive and the principle which instigates that section can be extended to cases which do not fall strictly within the letter of the law….. The principle of res judicata is accepted in larger public interest which requires that all litigations must, sooner or later, come to an end. The principle is also based in equity, justice and good conscience which requires that a party which has once succeeded on an issue should not be allowed to be intimidated by a multiplicity of proceedings involving determination of the same issue”.

Thus, it can be said that doctrine of res judicata is a rule of universal law pervading every well-regulated system of jurisprudence.

The doctrine of res judicata is compiled in Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code.

Res Judicata (Section 11)

No Court shall try any suit or issue in which the matter directly and extensively in issue has been directly and extensively in issue in a former suit among the same parties, or among parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, in a Court competent to try such suit later or the suit in which such issue has been raised later, and has been heard and finally decided by such a Court.

Explanation I: The expression ‘former suit shall mean a suit which has been decided earlier to the suit in question whether or not it was appointed prior thereto.

Explanation II: For the purposes of this section, the appropriateness of the Court shall be determined irrespective of any provisions as to a right of appeal from the decision of such Court.

Explanation III: The matter above mentioned to must in the former suit have been asserted by one party and either renounced or admitted, precisely or impliedly, by the other.

Explanation IV: Any matter which might or must have been made ground of defence or attack in such a former suit, shall be considered to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit.

Explanation V: Any relaxation claimed in the plaint, which is not specifically granted by the decree, shall, for the purposes of this section be deemed to have been refused.

Explanation VI: Where persons litigate bona fide in respect of a public right or of a private right alleged in common for themselves and others all persons interested in such right shall, for the purposes of this section, be deemed to allege under the persons so litigating.

Explanation VII: The provisions of this section shall administer to a proceeding for the execution of a decree and references in this Section to any suit, issue or former suit shall be explained as references, respectively, to a proceeding for the execution of the decree, question arising in such proceeding and a former proceeding for the execution of that decree.

Explanation VIII: An issue heard and finally decided by a Court of limited jurisdiction, competent to determine such issue, shall operate as res judicata in a subsequent suit, nevertheless that such Court of limited jurisdiction was not adequate to try such subsequent suit or the suit in which such issue has been subsequently raised.

Object of Res Judicata

Res judicata pron veriate accipitur” is the full maxim which has over the years decreased to mere “res judicata”. It is well decided that Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure is not comprehensive of the general doctrine of res-judicata and though the rule of res-judicata as legislated in Section 11 has some technical aspects the general doctrine is established on considerations of high public policy to attain two objectives namely, that there must be finality to litigation and that person should not be harassed twice over with the same kind of litigation. (Gulam Abbas v. State of Uttar Pradesh[5]).

In Halsbury’s Laws of England[6],’ the following observation regarding Res judicata is stated:

“Res Judicata is a rule of universal law that pervades every well-regulated system of jurisprudence and is based on two grounds, each of which is represented in a different maxim of the common law: the first is public policy and necessity, which makes it to the state’s interest to end litigation; the second is the hardship to the individual of being vexed twice for the same cause.”

Nature and Scope of Res Judicata

The doctrine of res judicata, i.e., rule of conclusiveness of a judgment is

established on three maxims.

(i) Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa (No man should be vexed twice for the same cause).

(ii) Interest republicae ut sit finis litium (It is in the interest of state that there should be an end to litigation).

(iii) Res judicata pro veritate accipitur (A judicial decision must be accepted as correct).

The first maxim is based on the approach of private justice. It looks to the interest of litigants. The principle of res-judicata is expected not only to avoid a new decision but also to avoid a new investigation so that the same person cannot be harassed again and again in different proceedings upon the same question.

The second maxim is established on public policy that there should be an end to litigation otherwise if suits were permitted to be filed endlessly for the same cause of action it would be plainly absurd for the existing Courts to cope with ever growing litigation.

The third maxim is also based on public policy, that judicial decisions must be acknowledged as correct. In other words, it executes a rule of conclusiveness of judgments as to the points decided in every subsequent suit between the same parties.

The doctrine of res judicata is established on the principles of justice, equity and good conscience. The doctrine of res judicata is a rule of procedure and not substantive law. The bar of res judicata is mandatory and cannot be avoided by a party except by invoking the Section 44 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872 on the grounds that the judgment was obtained by fraud or collision or was without jurisdiction.

The issue of res judicata is a combination of legal and factual issues. The bar not only applies to the decision itself, but also to all facts and circumstances in the case as necessary steps in laying the foundation for that decision.

In Jaswant Singh v. Custodian of Evacuee Property[7], it was held that in order to determine the question whether a subsequent proceeding pending is barred by res judicata, it is essential to examine the question with reference to the (i) forum or ability of the Court; (ii) parties or their representatives, (iii) matters in issue, (iv) matter which ought to have been made ground for attack or justification in the former suit and (v) the final decision.

In Management of Indian Aluminium Co. Ltd. v. Nagaiah[8], it was held that Section 11 of the Code is not comprehensive of res judicata. The administration of the doctrine is not restricted to Code of Civil Procedure but extends to all litigations including Industrial Disputes cases. The doctrine is established in consideration of high public policy.

Conditions for Application of Res Judicata

In order to establish a matter as res judicata, the following conditions must be fulfilled :-

(i) There must be two suits, one former suit and other consecutive suit.

(ii) The Court which determined the former suit must be competent to try the subsequent suit.

(iii) The matter directly and substantially in issue must be the same either literally or constructively in both the suits.

(iv) The matter directly and subsequently in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided by the Court in the former suit.

(v) The parties to the suits or the parties under whom they or any of them claim must be the same in both the suits.

(vi) The parties in both the suits must have prosecuted under the same title.

Exceptions to the Plea of Res Judicata

Judgment in original suit acquired by fraud – if a court assumes that the judgment of former suit is obtained by fraud, then the doctrine of the res judicata is not used.

When the previous SLP is dismissed – When a special leave petition is dismissed without decision then res judicata should not be used. For obtaining  Doctrine of Res Judicata, the formal suit should be decided by the competent court.

A different cause of action – Section 11 will not be used when there is a different cause of action in the consecutive suits. The court cannot bar a consecutive suit if it contains a different cause of action.

When there is Interlocutory Order – Interlocutory order is the interim order, decree or sentence delivered by the court.  A principle of the Res Judicata will not be used 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 modified by subsequent application and there is no finality of the decision.

Waiver of a decree of Res Judicata –  Decree of Res Judicata is a plea in the bar that must be waived by the opposing party. If a party fails to raise the defense of res judicata, the case will be determined in his favor. It is the responsibility of the opposing party to inform the court of the outcome of the previous suit. If a party fails to do so, the matter is settled against him.

Court not competent to decide – When the former suit is settled by the court who has no jurisdiction to decide the matter then the doctrine of res judicata is not used to the subsequent suit.

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 prohibited by Section 11.

When the court fails to apply Res Judicata

If the court fails to apply for res judicata and instead issues a contrary judgement on the same issue, the matter will be sent to the third court, which will apply res judicata based on the prior suit’s decision. Thus it is the function and authority of the parties to the suit to bring the former case to the attention of the court and the Judge will determine on whether a plea of Res judicata should be allowed or not.

Conclusion

Res Judicata is a legal notion that exists in all jurisdictions around the world. The Res Judicata concept has become an important feature of the Indian legal system. The court can use Res Judicata when it believes the case has already been determined by the previous suit, according to Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Court, 1908.

This doctrine applies not only to civil courts in India, but also to administrative law and other legislation. The finality concept, on which the res judicata plea is based, is an issue of public policy. Res Judicata is a legal doctrine that prevents repetitive judgements and protects the interests of the other party by limiting the plaintiff’s ability to obtain damages from the defendant twice for the same injury.


[1] AIR1980 SC 941

[2] AIR 2004 SC 2186

[3] AIR 1960 SC 941

[4] AIR 1977 SC 789

[5] AIR 1981 SC 2198

[6] 3rd Edn. Vol. 15

[7] (1985) 3 SCC 648

[8] 2009 (3) Kant LJ 184 (DB)

Author– Vanshika Gupta (Maharaja Aggrasen Institute Of Management And Technology)

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