Res Judicata


B.A.LLB, Central University of South Bihar

Res means “subject matter” and judicata means “adjudged” or decided and etymologically, it means “a matter adjudged”. Simply, it means that the issue before a court has already been decided by another court and between the same parties. Hence, the court can dismiss the case as it means “bar re-litigation” of such cases between the same parties that had been earlier decided by another court. It applies to both civil and criminal legal system. This principle seeks to promote the fair administration of justice but perhaps mostly to avoid unnecessary waste of resources and time of the judicial system. This is just to prevent the court from giving multiplying judgments, so a prevailing plaintiff may not recover damages from the defendant twice for the same injury.

Brief History and Origin of Res Judicata

“Res judicata pro veritate accipitur” is the full latin maxim and presently, shrunk to mere “Res Judicata”. This concept has been evolved from the English Common Law System, being derived from the overriding concept of judicial economy, consistency, and finality. From the common law, it got included in the Code of Civil Procedure and from the Civil Procedure Code, the Administrative law is also evident of this. Then, slowly but steadily the other acts and statutes also started to admit this concept within its ambit.

The doctrine of Res Judicata is based on three Roman maxims:

(a) Nemo debet lis vaxari pro eadem causa; (b) Interest republicae ut sit finis litium; and (c) Re judicata pro veritate occipitur.

The pre-requisites necessary for Res Judicata:

  1. Must be a final judgement.
  2. Judgement must be on the merits.
  3. The claims must be the same in the first and second suits.
  4. The parties in the second action must be the same as those in the first one, or need to be

represented by a party to the prior action.

Nature of Res Judicata

It tries to bring in natural and fair justice to the parties and that too by barring the other party to file a multiple number of suits either for justice or for harassing the other party. It includes two related concepts: claim preclusion, and issue preclusion (also called collateral estoppel).
Although it does not restrict the appeals process and these are considered as the appropriate manner by which the judgement can be challenged rather than trying to start a new trial, thereby  once the appeals process is exhausted or waived, Res Judicata will apply even to a judgment that is contrary to law.

Scope of Res Judicata

The scope has been decided in the case of Gulam Abbas v. State of Uttar Pradesh,[1] the court incorporated the rules as evidence as a plea of an issue already tries in an earlier case and  held that res judicata is not exhaustive and even if the matter is not directly covered under the provisions of the section it will be considered as a case of res judicata on general principles.

Res Judicata can be waived-

In the case of P.C. Ray and Company Private Limited v. Union of India,[2] held that the plea of res judicata may be waived by a party to the proceeding. This principle belongs to the procedure and either party can waive the plea. Only in those cases the court can deny the question of Res Judicata when it has not been raised in the proceedings.

Criticism to Res Judicata

Res judicata can also be applied to judgment that may be contrary to law. It includes matters not only those of bar but also those matters which should be litigated. Most of the equity cases involve res judicata and do not get beyond collateral estoppel.  As it raises the difficulty of overlapping more than the failure to litigate issues.

Failure to Apply

When the court fails to apply Res Judicata and renders a divergent verdict on the same claim or issue and if the third court faces the same issue, it will apply a “last in time” rule. It gives effect to the later judgment and it does not matter about the result that came differently in the second time. This situation is typically the responsibility of the parties to the suit to bring the earlier case to the judge’s attention, and the judge must decide how to apply it, whether to recognize it in the first place.


This doctrine is of wider ambit and it applies even to the public interest litigation. It applies not only to the civil suits but also to the criminal proceedings. It basically tries to promote the fair administration of justice and saves the time and resources of the justice system.

[1] 1981 AIR 2198, 1982 SCR (1)1077.

[2] AIR 1971 Cal 512.

Author: Prity Kumari,
Central University of South Bihar, 2nd year

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