DELVING INTO THE DOCTRINE OF RES JUDICATA

Introduction

Res specifically means “the subject matter” and judicata means “anything which has been decided or adjudged”, hence making, “the subject matter adjudged or decided”, the vivid augmentation of the doctrine of res judicata. Res judicata is the shrunken name of the Latin maxim “Res Judicata Pro Veritate Accipitur”. The doctrine of res judicata was first included in the English Common Law and after that, it was included in the Indian legal system. Section 11 of Civil Procedure Code, 1908 officially quotes about res judicata. Res judicata states, any matter that has been adjudged by a competent/equal court is not to be further pursued by the same parties under the same title. The simpler explanation of the concept of res judicata is, it bars the petitioners to file any suit or petition on the same matter of issues or grounds, bearing the name of the same parties and before the court possessing the same authority and jurisdiction.

Three major components altogether constitute the very concept of res judicata:
  • Exceptio res judicatae: It states that one suit/proceeding or one decree of any court is sufficient enough for a matter.
  • Nemo debetn vexari pro una eadam causa: No person shall be vexed frequently for the same cause.
  • Interest republicae ut sit finis litius: It is good for state that litigation should be brought to an end.

Essentials of res judicata

There must be some pre-requisites or essentials that ought to be present for res judicata to be applied. They are as follows:

  • Parties should be the same.
  • The title should be the same.
  • Matter in issue should be the same.
  • The former suit must be heard and decided.
  • The former court must be competent to try the subsequent matter.

It is important to note here that when the concept of res judicata is applied, the subsequent court becomes incompetent to try the further suit, which means it does not have jurisdiction on the subject matter. If in case, the court having equal authority admits the matter and delivers a decree regarding the same, that decree will be termed as void.

Constructive Res judicata

As a general matter of fact, the codification of the doctrine of res judicata is mentioned in section 11 of C.P.C, 1908 and appears in relation to civil suits. The rule of constructive res judicata is talked about in the ‘Explanation IV of section 11 of Civil Procedure Code’ and in several matters coming before the court, the court not only has applied this doctrine directly but also have preferred the application of the rule of constructive res judicata.

Explanation IV: Any matter which might and ought to have been made the ground of defence or attack in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit. It means when any point of issue that could have been mentioned as a ground of contention or defence in the former suit but if the concerned party has failed to mention it (in former proceedings), then it must be labelled as heard and adjudged.

Illustration: A files a suit against B and claims that he is entitled to certain lands as an heir of C. The suit is rejected by the court. A files a subsequent suit against B on grounds of adverse possession. A is barred to file such a suit according to constructive res judicata because A ought to have taken the ground of adverse possession in the previous suit.

Landmark judgement on constructive res judicata

State of U.P v. Nawab Hussain (1977) 2 SCC 806

In this case, respondent Nawab Hussain, police was dismissed from the service on the grounds of corruption charges. Respondent Nawab Hussain was discharged by the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police. Nawab Husain filed a writ petition against the dismissal order citing the reason that he was not given the fair and reasonable opportunity to take any action on the allegation against him and stated that the intention behind the order of dismissal is mala-fide. This writ petition filed by Hussain was dismissed by Allahabad High Court. Thereafter Nawab Hussain filed a civil suit in a civil court and raised an issue which contended that the task of his appointment as the sub-inspector of police was exercised by the Inspector General of Police (IG) and said the dismissal of the respondent was done by DIG. Hussain claimed that DIG did not have the authority to discharge him from the service. This was the first case where constructive res judicata was applied in India where the Apex Court stated that the issue which Nawab Hussain has brought up in the subsequent suit filed in the civil court might or ought to have been mentioned in the former suit.

Res judicata and estoppel

Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act mentions this concept of estoppel. In simple language, the principle of estoppel prevents any person from stating anything which is contradictory to what has been asserted or stated previously. Even though the concept of constructive res judicata or res judicata is coinciding with the principle of estoppel there are some peculiar distinctions among the two.

Differences

  • Decision and competency of the court, two are essential components to decide the application of res judicata.

Estoppel on the contrary is applied to parties to any matter for it flows from the performance or acts of the parties.

  • The larger purpose of prevention of multiplicity of litigations is taken into consideration in the rule of res judicata whereas estoppel talks about the doctrine of equity which assures that no person shall turn back from the statement or assertion was capable enough to alter the situation or position of another person.
  • Res judicata puts a bar on the jurisdiction of any Court which reopens to try any such case which has already been adjudicated. Estoppel is a set of rules of evidence that bars a person from going beyond the previously implied statements.
  • The restriction of res judicata is applied on both parties whereas estoppel is binding on only one party.

 Exceptions

It is being said, “Beginner knows the rule but veterans know the exceptions”. When one gets well acquainted with any type of rule, doctrine or principle, he/she must know the exceptions to the very rule.

There are certain exceptions to the rule of res judicata.
  • When the court passes the judgement without jurisdiction.
  • When the writ petition is of Habeas Corpus
  • When the judgement is procured by fraud.

Judgement delivered without jurisdiction: Rule of res judicata is not applicable to the situation where the judgement is passed by the court which had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter. It means when the doctrine of res judicata is applicable this is very crucial to check that whether the court was competent to or had the required jurisdiction to adjudge the matter.

Union of India v. Pramod Gupta & Ors[1].

When the writ petition is of Habeas Corpus: When we threw the light on the diversified scope of res judicata, we learned that res judicata is applicable to writ petitions (Daryao v. the State of U.P[2]) and arbitration proceedings also. But this doctrine is not applicable to the writ petition of Habeas Corpus.

When the judgement is procured by fraud: Res judicata cannot be availed when the earlier decision or decree of the court was obtained by fraud or without proper representation. Also, one more important component which stands as an exception to this rule is, application of res judicata on every matter in issue in the previous suit may not prevail. Only the matter which was “directly” and “substantially” dealt in the former suit, mayss work as res judicata.

Conclusion

Res judicata is an effective tool that can bring cessation to the major problem of ‘cases pendency’ in Indian courts. The horizons defining the doctrine of res judicata are vast and complex. Res judicata has public as well as private aspects. Individually, it brings finality to the decision of one court which subsequently brings stability in any case pertaining to any individual whereas publicly, it helps in preventing the multiplicity of litigation. It helps judges to clear the burden or caseload over themselves or the judiciary. Res judicata is in use since the long back era and there have been certain evolutions in the peculiar concept over the changing period of time.

Author(s) Name: Ninad Senad (D.E.S Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune)

References:

[1] (2005) 12 SCC 1

[2] 1961 AIR 1457

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