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This article is written by Tanya Bharti, Student, School of Law, Christ University, Bangalore. The author discusses the meaning, scope and application of Res Judicata and Res Sub Judice in court proceedings.

Introduction

In the common law, several principles have been laid down which formed the foundation of the present legal system in India. The purpose of such doctrines is to assess the Judicial Efficiency and ensure that the productive pace of getting justice in the court is achieved and maintained. Two of these principles are discussed in this article, namely, the Doctrine of Res Sub Judice and Res Judicata.

In Latin, Res Judicata means a matter that has been judged. When a case has already been decided and the final judgement been given such that the matter is no longer subject to appeal, the doctrine of res judicata bars or precludes continued litigation of such matter between the same parties.

On the other hand, Sub Judice means ‘under judgment’. It implies that a matter is being considered by court or judge. In a scenario when two or more cases are filed between the same parties on the same subject matter, the competent court has the power to stay proceedings. So, the doctrine of Res Sub Judice means stay of suit.

In order to ensure that the courts’ time is effectively used as well as justice for all is obtained, these doctrines play an important role. They do this by ensuring that a suit ends after the judgment is passed and that the same suit on the same subject matter is not filed multiple times. This ensures smooth functioning of the judiciary.

Res Judicata

In case of Res Judicata, a matter once decided cannot be raised again, either in the same court or in a different court. This is why it is also called as ‘claim preclusion’ as it precludes or prohibits any further claims after the final judgment. It is a common law practice meant to bar re-litigation of cases between the same parties in the court.

The doctrine of Res Judicata come from the full maxim ‘Res judicata pro veritate accipitur’. The concept of Res Judicata evolved from the English Common Law system, and was derived from the overriding concept of judicial economy, consistency, and finality. From the common law, it got included in the Code of Civil Procedure, which was later as a whole was adopted by the Indian legal system.

Purpose of Res judicata

Res Judicata aims to prevent;

  1. Injustice to the parties of a case that has been supposedly concluded by providing closure to a judgment and precluding any further claims
  2. Unnecessary waste of court resources
  3. Multiplying of judgments as further claims would lead to several varied judgements on the same matter which will lead to confusion
  4. Recovery of damages from the defendant twice for the same injury

Res judicata includes

  • Claim preclusion: it focuses on barring a suit from being brought again on a legal cause of action, that has already been, finally decided between the parties.                    
  • Issue preclusion: bars the re-litigation of factual issues that have already been necessarily determined by a judge as part of earlier claim.

Though it must be noted that, this doesn’t include the process of appeal, as an appeal is considered the appropriate way to challenge a judgement. Once the appeal process is exhausted or barred by limitation, the res judicata will apply to the decision. Therefore, its application is only on the final decision post appeals.

Maxims

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Doctrine of res judicata or rule of conclusive judgement is based on the following three maxims:

  1. Nemo debet lis vexari pro eadem causa– no man to be vexed twice for the same cause.
  2. Interest republicae ut sit finis litium– it is in the interest of the state that there should be end to litigation.
  3. Re judicata pro veritate occipitur– a judicial decision should be accepted as correct.

In the case of Ashok Kumar v National Insurance Company 1998, the Supreme Court observed that the first legal maxim takes care of the private interest and the next two of the larger interest of the society.

Res Judicata under Indian law

Res judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of the judgment has been embodied in the Indian law under Section 11 of the code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It enacts that once a matter is finally decided by a competent Court, no party can be permitted to reopen it in a subsequent litigation. Section 11 states that;

“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 the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi, Hon’ble Justice Das Gupta explained the doctrine of Res Judicata as;

“The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to judicial decisions. What it says is that once a res is judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. Primarily it applies as between past litigation and future litigation. When a matter, whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has been decided 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 no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter again.”  

Ingredients and essentials of section 11

  • According to this section, no court shall try any suit or issue in which:
    1. The matter in issue (directly and substantially)has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit
    2. Such matter in the former suit had been between the same parties or between parties claiming  under them
    3. The matter must be litigated under the same title in a court competent to try such suit or a suit in which the matter has been subsequently raised and has been heard and finally decided by such court
  • Mandatory Provision:
    1. Further, it must be noted that Section 11 is a mandatory provision and not directory in nature. The only exception in which a former suit can be avoided is by taking recourse of Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 on grounds of fraud or collusion.
    2. The same was discussed in the case of  Beli Ram and Brothers v Chaudri Mohammad Afzal, where the court held that when it was established that the guardian of the minor had acted in collusion with the defendant, it doesn’t operate as res judicata and can be set aside by invoking Section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act.
    3. Further, in the case of Jallur Venkata Seshayya v. Tahdaviconda Koteswara Rao, 1937 the court held that, gross negligence in former suit doesn’t amount to fraud or collusion and thus acts as bar to subsequent suit.
  • The following are also to be taken into account:
    1. former suit denotes a suit which has been decided prior to the suit in question, and not if it was prior to this suit. i.e. The cut-off is date of judgement and not the date of institution of the suit.
    2. competency of a court is to be decided, irrespective of the right to appeal from a former suit.
    3. the matter referred to in this suit must have been alleged by one party and either accepted or refused by the other party (expressly/impliedly).
    4. any matter which might or ought to have been made ground of attack/defence in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit (constructive res judicata).
    5. if any relief was claimed in plaint and was not granted expressly, it would be deemed to have been refused in such former suit.
    6. when persons litigate bonafide in respect of a public/private right claimed in common for themselves and others, all persons interested for the purpose of section 11 , will be deemed as claiming under persons litigating,
    7. it is also to be remembered that, a court of limited jurisdiction where the former suit was instituted and decided upon, shall operate as res judicata, even if the court of limited jurisdiction is not competent to try the subsequent suit.
    8. this section 11 applies to execution proceedings also.
  • Public Interest Litigations:
    1. In case of res judicata, a Public Interest Litigation can be applicable only when the former suit was bonafide in nature and that it will not act as a shield in cases where public good is threatened or questioned.
    2. In the case of Rural litigation and Entitlement Kendra v State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court observed that the writ petition before them was not an inter-party dispute and the controversy in it was whether mining was to be allowed or not. Thus it was a matter that decided the social safety and providing hazardous free environment. It was further discussed by the court that this matter was of  grave public importance and therefore, res judicata could not be used as a shield.
    3. Further in the case of Ramdas Nayak v Union of India, court observed that, by invoking re judicata, it was high time for the court to end repetitive litigations coming under the grab of public interest litigations.

Cases

  1. In Slochana Amma v. Narayana Nair 1994, the court held, the doctrine of res judicata applies to quasi judicial proceedings before tribunals also.
  2. In the case of Govindaswamy v. Kasturi Ammal 1998, it was held by the court that, the doctrine of res judicata applies to the plaintiff as well as the defendant.
  3. The court held in the case of Umayal Achi v MPM Ramanathan Chettiar that the correctness or otherwise of a judicial decision has no bearing upon whether or not it operates as res judicata.

Applications of res judicata

  • The doctrine of res judicata can be invoked even in the subsequent stage of the same proceedings. In the case of  Y.B. Patil  v. Y.L.Patil, the court held that once an order is made in the course of the proceedings, it becomes final and therefore would be binding upon the parties at any subsequent stages of the same proceedings.
  • This doctrine can also apply against co-defendants. In the case of Mahaboob Sahab v Syed Ismail, the court held the following four conditions must be satisfied for the application of  res judicata:
    1. there must be a conflict of interest between the defendants concerned.
    2. it must be necessary to decide such conflicts, in order to give relief to the plaintiff
    3. the questions between the defendants to be finally decided.
    4. co-defendants to be necessary and proper parties to the suit.
  • Further, this doctrine can be applied even between co-plaintiffs. In the case of Iftikhar Ahmed v. Syed Meharban Ali, the court held that if the following four conditions are satisfied res judicata will be applicable:
    1. there must be a conflict of interest between the co-plaintiffs
    2. it must be necessary to decide such conflicts, in order to give relief to the plaintiff
    3. the questions between the plaintiffs to be finally decided.

Non-application of res judicata

  1. Habeas corpus petitions: In the case of Sunil Dutt v Union of India, it was held that habeas corpus, filed under fresh grounds and changed circumstances will not be barred by a previous such petition.
  2. Dismissal of writ petition in limine: In Pujari Bai v Madan Gopal, it was held res judicata not applicable when dismissed in limine ( without speaking orders) or on grounds of laches or availability of alternate remedies.
  3. Matter collaterally and incidentally in issue doesn’t operate as res judicata as discussed in the case of Sayed Mohammad v Musa Ummer
  4. Res judicata not applicable to it proceedings or fixing of fair rent proceedings

Res Sub Judice

When two or more cases are filed between the same parties on the same subject matter, in two or more different Courts, the competent court has power to “Stay Proceedings” of another Court. The doctrine of res sub judice aims to prevent courts of concurrent jurisdiction from simultaneously entertaining and adjudicating upon two parallel litigations with respect to the same cause of action, same subject matter and same relief claimed.

Application of Res Sub Judice in India

Section 10 of Civil Procedure Code defines ‘Stay of suit’ as follows:

“No Court to proceed with trail of any suit in which the matter in issue, is also directly and substantially in issue. In previously instituted suit between the same parties, or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, where such suit is pending in same or any other Court, in India, Having jurisdiction to grant relief claimed. Explanation: The pendency of a suit in a Foreign Court doesn’t preclude the Courts in India from, trying a suit founded on same cause of action.”

Scope and Objective of section 10

  1. Scope: Section 10 deals with the concept of Res Sub Judice.
  2. Objective: The object of Section 10 is to prevent Courts of concurrent jurisdiction from simultaneously, trying two parallel cases, in respect of same matter in issue. The two fold objects are:
    1. Avoid wasting Court Resources.
    2. Avoid Conflicting decisions.

Conditions or essentials

  • The matter in issue in both the cases are to be substantially the same
  • Previously instituted suit must be pending in the same or any other court competent to grant:
    1. Relief claimed in the suit.
    2. Relief claimed in subsequent the suit.
  • Suits to the parties are to be the same or between parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title.
  • Pendency of suit in Foreign Court doesn’t activate Section 10 CPC.
  • If suit is pending before a Court and subsequently an application is filed before a Thasildhar, it doesn’t invoke Section 10 as Thasildhar is not a “Court”
  • For purpose of institution, the date of presentation of plaint and not the date of admission is considered. The term suit includes appeal.
  • Any decree passed in violation of Section 10 is null and void.

Illustration: Papita, an agent of Babita at Delhi agreed to sell Babita’s goods in Chennai. Papita, the agent files suit for balance of accounts in Chennai. Babita sues the agent Papita for accounts and his negligence in Delhi; while case is pending in Chennai. In this case, Delhi Court is precluded from conducting trail and Papita can petition Chennai Court to direct stay of proceedings against Delhi Court.

Cases

    1. Facts: The defendant had filed for stay of present suit, an application u/s 10 CPC, on ground that the matter in controversy is pending in Jamshedpur Court also. This was opposed by plaintiff on ground that, the defendants had raised issue of jurisdiction of Jamshedpur Court to entertain same suit; and that application u/s 10 CPC can be filed in the present suit, only if objection with respect to lack of jurisdiction was withdrawn in Jamshedpur Court.
    2. Judgment: Court held that the conditions requisite to invoke S.10 CPC are:
      1. Matter in issue in both the suits to be substantially the same.
      2. Suit to be between the same parties or parties litigating under them
      3. Previously instituted suit to be in the same Court or a different Court, which has jurisdiction to grant the relief asked.
      4. There is nothing to the effect that defendant should not question the competency of previously Court in the previously instituted suit, and there remains the fact that the plaintiff in their defense against S.10 CPC, had not stated the Jamshedpur Court is competent. Thus relief was granted to the defendant.
  • Dees Piston Ltd  V State Bank of India 1991: In this case, it was held that. when a matter is before a competent Civil Court, the National Commission will not entertain a petition in respect of identical subject matter under Consumer Protection Act.
  • Indian Bank V Maharashtra State Co-Operative Marketing Federation 1998: The court in this case held that, the object of prohibition in S.10 CPC, is to, prevent courts of concurrent Jurisdiction from simultaneously trying two parallel cases avoid inconsistent findings on the matter in issue.

Conclusion

With the ever-increasing cases in the courts and the heightened burden on the courts because of several frivolous and repetitive suits, it is inevitable that to ensure smooth functioning of the judicial system as well as for providing justice to needy parties that these two doctrines are rigorously implemented. These doctrines are not and must not be used for the purpose of avoidance of justice. Rather, the purpose is to make the judiciary more efficient.

The doctrine of Res Sub Judice operates as a stay from the same subject matter in issue being parallel instituted in two different Courts and the twin objectives of Section 10 CPC are, Avoiding conflicting decisions and findings. Avoiding wastage of Court resources and time.

The doctrine of Res Judicata, on the other hand, aims to ensure that a matter once closed after exhaustion of all remedies is not re-opened. This is important as if it were not in place, the cases would go on in perpetuity and there would be no conclusion in any matter.

 

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