The doctrine of res judicata is a fundamental concept of every legal system which entails a definitive modus operandi for the judicial body, adjudicating and resolving disputes. Res Judicata is a term that has originated from a Latin maxim that stands for ‘the thing has been judged’. It is based on the principles of justice, equity and good conscience. [1] It means an issue before the Court which has already been decided by a Court. Therefore, if the same issue is filed before the court, it shall be dismissed as being useless. The principle of Res Judicata has emerged from the Common Law System of England which  derives its features from an overriding principle of judicial consistency and finality. The concept of doctrine of Res Judicata is applicable both in case of civil as well as criminal legal system. It also applies to a case where a judgment has been proclaimed and subsequently, one of the parties files another suit on grounds of identical matter and against the same parties, seeking the same relief from court. Application of the doctrine thereby deters  the complainant to repeatedly file the same suit in the court.


The rule of res judicata has archaic roots, originating from the three Roman maxims. The maxims are:

  1.     Nemo debet bis vexari pro eadem causa – meaning that no person shall be punished or convicted for more than once for the same cause. This concept is evident in Criminal Law under the name of doctrine of Double Jeopardy.
  2.     Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium – meaning that it is in the best interests of the State and its judicial body that there should be an end of litigation process.
  3.     Res judicata pro veritate accipitur – meaning that the decision of the court should be considered as true and final.

This Roman doctrine was then incorporated and infused into the English Common Law system to achieve finality of the decisions. This principle first entered the Indian Legal System through the Civil Procedure Code during the colonial period. However, the concept or rationale behind the doctrine has been implemented by Hindu and Mohammedan jurists’ way before it was introduced in the Civil Procedure Code. During the early years, the  finality of the judgment was recognized as Purva Nyaya meaning a former judgment. This indicated that if any issue has been resolved in a former judgment, such a judgment becomes the final order.


Unlike common law regimes, the scope of this doctrine is narrower in civil law regimes like that of India. Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code embodies the doctrine of res judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of a judgment. It highlights that once a matter is finally decided in the competent court with competent authority, no party is permitted to reopen or refile the same case. In absence of such rule there will be no end to litigation and parties will re-file the cases causing trouble and expenses. [2] 

Section 11 contains statutory reflection of the principle along with various explanations portraying the principle of public policy. It 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.” [3]

The application of the doctrine has been best explained in the case of Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi by Justice Das Gupta in which it was held that the doctrine is based on the need of achieving finality for judicial decisions. What the doctrine says is that once a res is judicata, it shall not be adjudged again by any court. When a matter, whether on a question of fact or law has been decided between two parties in a suit and the decision is final, regardless of any reason, neither of the parties are allowed to file a future proceeding between same parties on the same issue. [4]


Res Judicata is inclusive of two varied concepts i.e. (a) claim preclusion (also known as collateral estoppels) and (b) issue preclusion (also known as issue estoppels). Claim preclusion forbids a case from being brought again over an incident which was the subject of a prior legal cause of action which had already been finally adjudged between the parties by a competent judicial authority. Issue preclusion forbids the re litigation of matters of fact or law that have already necessarily been decided by a judge as part of an earlier case. Both, claim preclusion and issue preclusion are very similar. It was often quite difficult to determine which of the concepts shall apply in the lawsuits because there can be various cases which can have causes of action supplying the same factual situation or vice versa. Nor is the application of res judicata limited to a subsequent suit brought on a related claim. Res judicata shall also extend in respect of a suit in which a party may have brought a plea against another party in a previous suit and failed to do so and filed a subsequent suit raising that plea. This ambit of the doctrine is called constructive res judicata.


The objective of Res Judicata is based on the three Roman maxims discussed earlier. It was observed by Sir Lawrence Jenkins that “the rule of res judicata, while founded on account of precedent, is dictated by a wisdom which is for all times” [5]. The doctrine is a conglomerate of the public policy reflected in the principles of ending a litigation and accepting a judicial decision as accurate. Res judicata is a rule of universal law pervading every well regulated system of jurisprudence. The purpose of res judicata is to avoid injustice on the part of the party to a decided suit. It also happens that, after the decision of the Court, the aggrieved party tries to re-establish the case. It is founded on two grounds, which are embodied in two essentials principles of common law; firstly the public policy and secondly necessity. This makes it in the interest of the state to put an end to litigation cycle at some point and secondly, an individual punished once should not be vexed twice on the account of same actions. [6] This principle aims at promoting honesty and fair administration of justice by preventing abuse of power and process by malicious litigants. [7]

The Supreme Court discussed the importance of the doctrine giving it a broader foundation in the case of Daryao v. State of Uttar Pradesh. Court upheld the bar of res judicata and dismissed the petition stating that the rules underlying the principle of res judicata are also relevant to the writ petitions under Article 32 and Article 226 of Constitution. The Court also stated that the doctrine is significant to achieve end to litigation and prevent endless confusion caused due to multiple adjudication of issues. [8] In the case Lal Chand v. Radha Krishan, the Supreme Court stated that once the last judgment is given, the judges who are later confronted with the suit of identical manner are to apply the concept of Res Judicata ‘to save the impact of the main judgment’. [9] Multiple suits leads to wastage of judicial resources and increases the burden of judiciary to adjudicate matters raising questions over the originality of the decisions rendered previously.


The issues involved, adjudged and determined in an earlier suit cannot always serve as res judicata in a subsequent suit as section 11 of CPC underlines certain conditions which are requisite for a matter to be termed as res judicata. The conditions are mentioned as follows:

  • Subject matter of the suit: An issue cannot be said to have been explicitly and substantially dealt with in a suit unless it is asserted by one party and rejected or accepted by another. This was upheld by the Court in the case of Lonakutty v. Thoman [10].
  • Former and subsequent suits: For application of res judicata, two suits i.e. a former suit and a subsequent suit are required. The former suit comprises the matter already decided by the court. A pending proceeding cannot be considered as a former suit.
  • Nature of the parties to the suit: Parties of both, former as well as subsequent suit should be the same. Parties involve the person on record at time of decision or a person who intervened in suit. A party whose name is withdrawn during the preceding is not considered as a party for purpose of applying res judicata. [11]
  • Direct and substantial coherence of matter in subsequent suits: The subject matter of the subsequent suit be directly related to the subject matter of former suit. A mere incidental encroachment over the issue of former suit does not attract application of doctrine of res judicata.
  • Same title: The parties to the subsequent suit must have litigated under the same title. Title here refers to the capacity or locus standi. Therefore if the suit with similarity in issues is filed under different capacity, then is considered to be valid and cannot be barred by the doctrine. [12]
  • Competent Court: The former suit must be adjudicated and decided by the competent court having full jurisdiction over the suit. If the court which decided the former suit lacked jurisdiction, the bar of the doctrine will not operate on the subsequent suit. [13]
  • Finality of the decision: The direct and substantial issue in the former suit must have been heard and finally decided. “Heard and finally decided” means that the court must have exercised its judicial authority, discussed and adjudged the case on its merits. [14]


The precious words of the Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Campbell are “Justice requires that every cause should be once fairly tried, and public tranquility demands that having been tried once, all litigation about that should be concluded forever between those parties.” [15] This doctrine can be understood as a procedural tool which prevents the losing party from moving the clock back in time with the motive to change the decision altogether. [16] It is imperative for every lawyer to abide by the mandatory application of the doctrine in civil as well as criminal proceedings.


[1] Lal Chand v. Radha Krishan, 1977 AIR 789.

[2] Gangai Vinayagar Temple v. Meenakshi Ammal, (2009) 9 SCC 757.

[3] The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (Act 5 of 1908), s. 11.

[4] Satyadhyan Ghosal v. Deorjin Debi, AIR 1960 SC 941.

[5] Sheoparsan Singh v. Ramnandan Singh, AIR 1916 PC 78.

[6] Edward Jenks, 15 Halsbury’s Laws of England 3rd Edition 185 (Butterworths, England and Wales, 2006).

[7] M. Nagabhushana v. State of Karnataka, (2011) 3 SCC 408.

[8] 1961 AIR 1457.

[9] 1977 AIR 789.

[10] AIR 1976 SC 1645.

[11] Gobind v. Taruck, (1878) ILR 3 Cal 145.

[12] Koshal Pal v. Mohan Pal, AIR 1976 SC 688.

[13] Gopi Nath v. Bhagwat Prasad, (1884) ILR 10 Cal 697.

[14] Gur Prasad v. Gur Prasad, AIR 1944 Oudh 321.

[15] Jeter v. Hewitt, 22 How. 352, per Campbell J.

[16] Prasad Sarjoo Jaiswal v. Dossibai N.B. Jeejeebhoy, (1970) 1 SCC 613.

                              BY ZEEL GONDALIYA |SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, PUNE

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