An introduction to Res Judicata

Vidhi Agarwal

Res Judicata is a Latin maxim and has been derived from two Latin words- “res” and “judicata”. Res stands for affair or matter and Judicata stands for judged. Hence, the etymological meaning, is therefore, “a judged matter”.

It means an affair which has been investigated and prosecuted by a competent court and may not, thus, be further sought by the same parties. Neither in the same case nor in the separate Court of India will the same case be taken up again. This is only to stop them from incrementing judgments, because for the same injury, a winning plaintiff cannot obtain compensation from the defendant continuously.


Res Judicata is find its place in Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code,1908. The wordings are as follows: “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.”

Inferring from the same, if:

  • It is the same issue
  • It is the same parties
  • The case has already been decided
  • The court which decided the case was competent to do the same

The case will be dismissed, if brought up again and hence explains res judicata.

Note: res judicata is applicable in the civil as well as the criminal courts.


The theory of res judicata is formulated in the greater public interest, which means that all cases must come to an end earlier than later. The theory is also focused on fairness, equity, and good faith, which demands that several hearings concerning the same issue do not torment a party who has once prevailed in a matter. The res judicata doctrine is based on 3 maxims:

“1.  nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa (no man should be vexed 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).”

The Res Judicata Doctrine seeks to create a balance between the two poles that are widely divided. One spot guarantees an effective legal system that allows final decisions with precision and removes the inequality of a defendant twice having to defend the same argument or issue of law.

On the other hand, it preserves the right of the complainant to have thoroughly and reasonably litigated concerns and allegations. The fundamental aspect involved in the essence of the Res Judicata doctrine is that the doctrine aims to bring the parties to normal and equal justice and that, too, by preventing the other party from bringing a number of complaints either for justice or for abuse of the other party.

It is important to note that Res Judicata does not restrict the appeal procedure which is deemed to be a linear continuation of the original lawsuit as the appeal court ladder goes up (and back down). Appeals are known to be the reasonable way to contest a decision rather than seeking to start a new trial, and Res Judicata will extend also to a judgment that is contradictory to the law until the appeals mechanism is drained or rescinded.


In Halsbury’s Laws of England (3rd edition), it was mentioned by Halsbury “the doctrine of res judicata is not a technical doctrine applicable only to records; it is a fundamental doctrine of all courts that there must be an end of litigation.”

Halsbury further claims that the theory is equivalently valid in all courts and that it is meaningless in which court the previous trial was held, given only that it was a court of qualified jurisdiction or what form the litigation took, granted that it was actually for the same purpose.

In Corpus Juris, it is said that res judicata “is a rule of universal law pervading every well-regulated system of jurisprudence, and is put upon two grounds, embodied in various maxims of the common law; the one, public policy and necessity, which makes it to the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation — interest republicae ut sit finis litium; the other, the hardship on the individual that he should be vexed twice for the same cause — nemo debet bis vexari pro eadem causa


The Court observed, in Daryao v. State of U.P., that the absolute existence of the judgments rendered by the courts of competent jurisdiction is itself an integral part of the rule of law, and that the rule of law is simply the foundation of the administration of justice on which the Constitution puts so much importance. Accordingly, the Court held that the rule of res judicata also extends to a petition lodged pursuant to Article 32 of the Constitution and, if a petition lodged by a petitioner in the High Court is rejected on the merits pursuant to Article 226 of the Constitution, that decision will serve as res judicata in order to avoid a similar petition lodged in the Supreme Court pursuant to Article 32 of the Constitution.

In Satyadhan Ghosal v. Deorajan Deb, Mr. Hon’ble Justice Das Gupta stated that the Res Judicata theory is based on the necessity to give sense of closure to judicial decisions. In the same case it was claimed that, where, in the case of various phases of the litigation, the rule is relied on in the same way as the essence of the proceedings, the extent of the inquiry provided for in the adjectival law relating to the decision at question, as well as the relevant provisions made on matters relating to such decisions, are some of the considerations to be addressed before the concept is considered to be pertinent.

The order would not bring an end to the case or require the willingness of any contentious issues in the action. In an interlocutory proceeding, a judgment or course of the kind provided for by the Order is not of the sort that can act in such a way as to preclude a hearing on the merits of an appeal.

In Vithal Yeshwant v. Shikandarkhan, the Supreme Court ruled that if, in any case at stake among the parties, the final verdict is based on a court’s judgments on more than one point, each of which alone is appropriate for the final decision, the ruling on each of those points acts as res judicata between the parties.

In the context of Workmen v. Board of Trustees, Cochin Port Trust, the Supreme Court established that the principle of res judicata comes into play when a verdict on a specific issue is implied in it by the judgment and order, i.e., it must be considered essentially to have been determined by default, so that the principle of res judicata on that subject is also straightforwardly operative.

In the case of Gulam Abbas v. State of U.P., the scope of Res Judicata was very well defined. Where the Code embodies the principles of conclusiveness as proof or bars as a plea in an earlier suit based on a lawsuit in which the case is specifically and significantly a matter, it becomes final.

Section 11 creates some right or interest over the land, but only serves as a bar to try ‘once again’ the issue. The Court shall presume and refer to all the judicial bodies functioning in India.

In the landmark case of Devilal Modi v. STO, the validity of the assessment order referred to in Article 226 was questioned. The validity of the petition was rejected. The Supreme Court also rejected an appeal against that order on the virtues. In the same High Court, another written petition was again lodged against the same order of assessment, taking up some additional grounds. The lawsuit on the merits was denied by the High Court.

On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the principle of positive res judicata barred the petition. The Court ruled that a party can lodge as many petitions as it wants and consider one or two points at a time if constructive res judicata is not extended to such proceedings. That is obviously contrary to the public policy considerations on which res judicata is based and would mean the opponent’s abuse and difficulty.

Furthermore, the doctrine of finality of judgments rendered by this Court would also be significantly impacted if such a course were allowed to be followed.


There are minimal exemptions to Res Judicata that permit a party, even outside of an appeal, to attack the fairness of the original judgment. Usually, these exceptions, invariably referred to as collateral attacks, are based on procedural or jurisdictional issues, based not on the rationality of the judgment of the previous court, but on its authority or the earlier court’s competence to issue the decision.

In judicial systems with numerous authorities, such as under federal governments, or where a domestic court is ordered to implement or accept the judgment of a foreign court, a collateral attack is more likely to be accessible (and to be accomplished).

Additionally, cases that tend to look like cases pertaining to Res Judicata can be re-litigated in matters requiring due process. The setting up of a right to counsel will be a case. As a matter of justice, people who have had freedom taken away (i.e., imprisoned) should be permitted to be re-tried with a consultant.