Res judicata is a fundamental principle of civil law in India that refers to the legal doctrine that a matter that has been finally adjudicated by a competent court cannot be reopened by the same parties or their successors in interest.The principle of res judicata is based on the idea that once a matter has been decided by a court of competent jurisdiction, the decision is final and conclusive and should not be challenged again. The doctrine of res judicata is designed to promote finality and certainty in legal proceedings, to avoid endless litigation, and to protect parties from being vexed twice over the same matter.Under Indian law, there are two types of res judicata: (1) res judicata in the narrow sense, which is also known as “cause of action estoppel,” and (2) res judicata in the wider sense, which is also known as “issue estoppel.”Cause of action estoppel refers to the situation where a judgment in a previous suit between the same parties or their privies operates as a bar to a subsequent suit on the same cause of action. In other words, a plaintiff who has already litigated and lost on a particular cause of action cannot bring another suit on the same cause of action against the same defendant.Issue estoppel, on the other hand, refers to the situation where a particular issue has already been decided by a court in a previous suit between the same parties or their privies, and the decision on that issue is binding in a subsequent suit between the same parties or their privies, even if the cause of action is different.Overall, res judicata is an important legal principle in civil law in India as it promotes finality, certainty, and efficiency in legal proceedings.

In other words when a competent body adjudicates upon an issue, involving the same parties which were party to the previous suit, cannot file another suit, asking the court to adjudicate upon the issue, which is similar to the issue already adjudicated upon in the previous suit.

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).

Detailed Case study on Res Judicata:

In Jaswant Singh v. Custodian of Evacuee Property 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 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.

In Satyadhyan Ghosal v Deorjin Debi, court had stated that the foundation of the doctrine of res judicata lies in the need for giving finality to judicial decisions. It means that once a matter is adjudicated, it mustn’t be adjudged again. Preliminary it will be applicable as between past litigation and future litigation. In case where a matter has been decided between parties in a suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because they did not resort to an appeal to a higher Court or because the said appeal was dismissed, or in cases where there is no scope for an appeal, none of the two parties will be permitted in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter all over again.

Daryao v. State of UP, AIR 1961 SC 1457

In this case, the Apex Court placed this doctrine on a higher footing, considering and treating the binding character of the judgments pronounced by competent courts as an essential part of the rule of law.

Amalgamated Coalfields Ltd. & Anr. v. Janapada Sabha Chhindwara & Ors., AIR 1964 SC 1013

The court held that the general principle of doctrine of res judicata applies to writ petitions filed under Article 32 and 226. Further, the court ensured that the application of this doctrine to the petitions filed under Article 32, does not in any way impair the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens. It only seeks to regulate the manner in which the said rights could be successfully asserted and vindicated in courts of law.

State of Karnataka v. All India Manufacturers Organisation & Ors., AIR 2006 SC 1846

In this case, it was held that the doctrine of Res Judicata would be applicable to a Public Interest Litigation, provided the earlier case was a genuine and a bona fide litigation as the judgement in the earlier case would be a judgement in rem.

Exceptions to the Doctrine of Res Judicata

There are certain exceptions to the doctrine of res judicata and these are as follows:

  1. If the decree has been obtained by practicing misrepresentation or fraud on the court, or where the proceedings had been taken all together under a special statute.
  2. Not every finding in the earlier judgment would operate as a res judicata. Only an issue, which is ‘directly’ and ‘substantially’ decided in the earlier suit, would operate as res judicata.
  3. Where the decision has not been given on merit, it would not operate, in case, the appeal of the judgement and decree of the court below is pending in the appellate court, as then the judgement of the court below cannot be held to be final, and the findings recorded therein would not operate as res judicata.
  4. When the judgment is non-speaking.
  5. Where the matter has not been decided on merit earlier, the doctrine of res judicata is not applicable.
  6. The doctrine of Res Judicata does not apply to criminal cases, where the entire proceedings have been initiated illegally and without jurisdiction.
  7. When a matter involves a pure question of law, the doctrine of res judicata will not apply.
  8. In cases of Dismissal in limine or dismissal on default, the doctrine of res judicata does not apply

Res Judicata & Estoppel:

The doctrine of res judicata operates as a bar on the jurisdiction of a court to try a suit which has been conclusively decided by the court with the same parties, same subject matter and under the same title. All these provisions are provided under section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure,1908.

Whereas the doctrine estoppel as defined in Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides that When one person has, by his declaration, act or omission, intentionally caused or permitted another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon such belief, neither he nor his representative shall be allowed, in any suit or proceeding between himself and such person or his representative, to deny the truth of that thing.

Res judicata corresponds to the part of the doctrine of estoppel, which is known as estoppel by record. Estoppel, as enunciated in Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, is by conduct or agreement or estoppel in parties. Thus, even though res judicata may be said to be included in the doctrine of estoppel, as understood in the wider sense of the term, it must be distinguished from estoppel as distinctly provided for in the Indian Law of Evidence.

Difference Between Res Sub Judice And Res Judicata

The sections dealing with Res Sub Judice and Res Judicata are section 10 and section 11 respectively. The former is applicable to the proceedings pending in the court, while the latter is applicable to matters already adjudicated upon. The doctrine of Res Sub Judice bars two parallel suits between the same parties, i.e., it bars the trial of a suit in which the matter is pending for decision in the previous suit. One the other hand Doctrine of Res Judicata stops the second trial of the same dispute between the same parties.

Constructive Res Judicata

Constructive Res Judicata is referred to as an artificial form of res judicata. It can be said that it is reflected in Explanation IV of Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code. If a party fails to raise a plea in the previous suit in spite of having an opportunity to do the same, then they are barred from raising the same plea in the subsequent suit, as they may still be bound by this doctrine.

Res Judicata landmark cases in India

Daryao v. State of Uttar Pradesh

In the historic case of Daryao v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the doctrine of res judicata is of universal application was established. The Supreme Court of India placed the doctrine of res judicata on a still broader foundation. In this case, petitioners filed a writ petition in the High Court of Allahabad under Article 226 of the Constitution. But the suit was dismissed. Then they filed independent petitions in the Supreme Court under the writ jurisdiction of Article 32 of the Constitution. The defendants raised an objection regarding the petition by asserting that the prior decision of the High Court would be operated as res judicata to a petition under Article 32. The Supreme Court dismissed and disagreed with the petitions.

The court held that the rule of res judicata applies to a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. If a petition is filed by the petitioner in the High Court under Article 226  of the Constitution and it is dismissed on the basis of merits, it would be operated as res judicata to bar a similar petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Devilal Modi vs. Sales Tax Officer

In the leading case of Devilal Modi vs. STO, B challenged the validity of an order of assessment under Article 226. The petition was dismissed on the basis of merits. The Supreme Court also dismissed the appeal that was made against the order on the basis of merits. B again filed another writ petition in the same High Court against the same order of assessment. This time the petition was dismissed by the High Court. The Supreme Court held that the petition was barred by the principle of res judicata. 

Avtar Singh v. Jagjit Singh

A peculiar problem arose in the case of Avtar Singh v. Jagjit Singh. A filed a civil suit, a contention regarding the arbitration of the Court was taken by B. The objection was sustained and the plaint was returned to the plaintiff for the presentation. The Revenue Court did not have any jurisdiction when A approached the Revenue Court so he returned the petition. Once again A filed a suit in the Civil Court. B contended that the suit was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. 

Mathura Prasad v. Dossabai N.B. Jeejeebhoy

In the case of  Mathura Prasad v. Dossibai N.B. Jeejeebhoy, it was held that res judicata constitutes between the parties to the previous case and cannot move again in collateral proceedings. Generally, a decision by a competent court operates as res judicata even on point of law. However, a question of law which is not related to facts that gives rise to the right, will not operate as res judicata. When the cause of action is different or the law is different, the decision has been already altered by an authority. The decision made will be declared as valid and res judicata will not operate in the subsequent proceeding. 

Instalment Supply private limited vs. Union of India

In cases of income tax or sales tax, the doctrine of res judicata does not apply. It was discussed in the case of Instalment Supply private limited vs. Union of India where the Supreme Court held that assessment of each year is final for that year and it will not govern in the subsequent years. As it determines the tax only for that particular period. 

P. Bandhopadhya and others v. Union of India and others

In the case of P. Bandhopadhya and others v. Union of India and others, The appeal was made in the Bombay High Court and the appellants asserted that they will be entitled to receive an amount as damages. The Supreme Court bench held that the appellants were not entitled to receive damages which were pensionary benefits under the Pension Rules 1972. They were entitled to receive benefits as the case was barred by the principle of res judicata. 

In the case of Public Interest Litigation, the doctrine of res judicata does not apply. As the primary object of res judicata is to bring an end to litigation so there is no reason to extend the principle of public interest litigation.Dismissal of special leave petition in limine does not operate as res judicata between the parties. A fresh petition will not be filed either under Article 32 or under Article 226 of the Constitution.  


One of the first and highest duties of all Courts is to take care that the act of the Court does no injury to the suitors. It has been said that an act of the Court shall harm none (actus curiae neminem gravabit). All courts, therefore, are bound to take care that their acts do not cause harm or injury to suitors. In the case of A.R. Antulay v. R.S. Nayak[10], the Supreme Court-ordered withdrawal of a case against the appellant pending in the Court of a Special Judge and transferred it to the High Court of Bombay. A preliminary objection was raised by the appellant against the jurisdiction of the Bombay High Court. It was, however, negative by the Court.

The appellant then approached the Supreme Court. It was contended that the direction was contrary to law and could not have been issued. The argument of the respondent was of res judicata. Allowing the appeal and recalling the earlier order, the Apex Court observed that the direction was violative of the fundamental rights of the appellant and no rule of res judicata would apply to such a situation

The doctrine of Res Judicata can be understood as something which restrains the either party to move the clock back during the pendency of the proceedings. The extend of Res Judicata is very-very wide and it includes a lot of things which even includes Public Interest Litigations. This doctrine is applicable even outside the Code of Civil Procedure and covers a lot of areas which are related to the society and people. The scope and the extent have widened with the passage of time and the Supreme Court has elongated the areas with its judgments.

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