13 Feb 2011

Res Judicata: The concept understood

No person is allowed to undertake a "litigative adventure" is what the Supreme Court has recently explained as a progeny of the doctrine of res judicata, a fundamental doctrine which is deeply embedded in the Indian legal system. Holding that the origin of the doctrine could be traced both in Hindu and Mohammedan jurisprudence, the Supreme Court quoted earlier decisions and took note of the legislative changes in the country concluding thereon that "the attempt to re-argue the case which has been finally decided by the Court of last resort is a clear abuse of process of the Court".

The Supreme Court in its recent decision in M. Nagabhushana v. State of Karnataka & Others , tracing the genesis of the concept in India and the subsequent developments thereon, inter alia explained the doctrine of res judicata in the following terms;
12. We find that disregarding the aforesaid clear finding of this Court, the appellant, on identical issues, further filed a new writ petition out of which the present appeal arises. That writ petition, as noted above, was rejected both by the learned Single Judge and by the Division Bench in clear terms.
13. It is obvious that such a litigative adventure by the present appellant is clearly against the principles of Res Judicata as well as principles of Constructive Res Judicata and principles analogous thereto.
14. The principles of Res Judicata are of universal application as it is based on two age old principles, namely, ‘interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium’ which means that it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation and the other principle is ‘nemo debet his ve ari, si constet curiae quod sit pro un aet eademn cause’ meaning thereby that no one ought to be vexed twice in a litigation if it appears to the Court that it is for one and the same cause. This doctrine of Res Judicata is common to all civilized system of jurisprudence to the extent that a judgment after a proper trial by a Court of competent jurisdiction should be regarded as final and conclusive determination of the questions litigated and should for ever set the controversy at rest
15. That principle of finality of litigation is based on high principle of public policy. In the absence of such a principle great oppression might result under the colour and pretence of law in as much as there will be no end of litigation and a rich and malicious litigant will succeed in infinitely vexing his opponent by repetitive suits and actions. This may compel the weaker party to relinquish his right. The doctrine of Res Judicata has been evolved to prevent such an anarchy. That is why it is perceived that the plea of Res Judicata is not a technical doctrine but a fundamental principle which sustains the Rule of Law in ensuring finality in litigation. This principle seeks to promote honesty and a fair administration of justice and to prevent abuse in the matter of accessing Court for agitating on issues which have become final between the parties.
16. Justice Tek Chand delivering the unanimous Full Bench decision in the case of Mussammat Lachhmi Vs. Mussammat Bhulli (ILR Lahore Vol.VIII 384) traced the history of this doctrine both in Hindu and Mohammedan jurisprudence as follows:-
“In the Mitakshra (Book II, Chap. I, Section V, verse 5) one of the four kinds of effective answers to a suit is “a plea by former judgment” and in verse 10, Katyayana is quoted as laying down that “one against whom a judgment had formerly been given, if he bring forward the matter again, must be answered by a plea of Purva Nyaya or former judgment” (Macnaughten and Colebrooke’s translation, page 22). The doctrine, however, seems to have been recognized much earlier in Hindu Jurisprudence, judging from the fact that both the Smriti Chandrika (Mysore Edition, pages 97-98) and the Virmitrodaya (Vidya-Sagar Edition, page 77) base the defence of Prang Nyaya (=former decision) on the following text of the ancient lawgiver Harita, who is believed by some Orientalists to have flourished in the 9th Century B.C. and whose Smriti is now extant only in fragments:-
“The plaintiff should be nonsuited if the defendant avers: ‘in this very affair, there was litigation between him and myself previously,’ and it is found that the plaintiff had lost his case”.
There are texts of Prasara (Bengal Asiatic Society Edition, page 56) and of the Mayukha (Kane’s Edition, page 15) to the same effect.
Among Muhammadan law-givers similar effect was given to the plea of “Niza-i-munfasla” or “Amar Mania taqrir mukhalif.” Under Roman Law, as administered by the Proetors’ Courts, a defendant could repel the plaintiff’s claim by means of ‘exceptio rei judicatoe” or plea of  former judgment. The subject received considerable attention at the hands of Ruman jurists and as stated in Roby’s Roman Private Law (Vol.II, page 338) the general principle recognised was that “one suit and one decision was enough for any single dispute” and that “a matter once brought to trial should not be tried except, of course, by way of appeal”. (Page 391-392 of the report) 
17. The learned Judge also noted that in British India the rule of Res Judicata was first introduced by Section 16 of the Bengal Regulation, III of 1973 which prohibited the Zilla and City Courts from entertaining any cause which, from the production of a former decree or the record of the Court, appears to have been heard and determined by any Judge or any Superintendent of a Court having competent jurisdiction. The learned Judge found that the earliest legislative attempt at codification of the law on the subject was made in 1859, when the first Civil Procedure Code was enacted, whereunder Section 2 of the Code barred every Court from taking cognizance of suits which, on the same cause of action, have been heard and determined by a Court of competent jurisdiction. The learned Judge opined, and in our view rightly, that this was partial recognition of the English rule in so far as it embodied the principles relating to Estoppel by judgment or Estopel by record. 
18. Thereafter, when the Code was again revised in 1877, the operation of the rule was extended in Section 13 and the bar was no longer confined to the retrial of a dispute relating to the same cause of action but the prohibition was extended against reagitating an issue, which had been heard and finally decided between the same parties in a former suit by a competent court. The learned Judge also noted that before the principle assumed its present form in Section 11 of the Code of 1908, the Section was expanded twice. However, the learned Judge noted that Section 11 is not exhaustive of the law on the subject. 
19. It is nobody’s case that the appellant did not know the contents of FWA. From this it follows that it was open to the appellant to question, in the previous proceeding filed by it, that his land which was acquired was not included in the FWA. No reasonable explanation was offered by the appellant to indicate why he had not raised this issue. Therefore, in our judgment, such an issue cannot be raised in this proceeding in view of the doctrine of Constructive Res Judicata. 
20. It may be noted in this context that while applying the principles of Res Judicata the Court should not be hampered by any technical rules of interpretation. It has been very categorically opined by Sir Lawrence Jenkins that “the application of the rule by Courts in India should be influenced by no technical considerations of form but by matter of substance within the limits allowed by law”. [See Sheoparsan Singh Vs. Rammanandan Prasad Singh, (1916) 1 I.L.R. 43 Cal. 694 at page 706 (P.C.)].
21. Therefore, any proceeding which has been initiated in breach of the principle of Res Judicata is prima-facie a proceeding which has been initiated in abuse of the process of Court.
22. A Constitution Bench of this Court in Devilal Modi Vs. Sales Tax Officer, Ratlam & Ors. – AIR 1965 SC 1150, has explained this principle in very clear terms: 
“But the question as to whether a citizen should be allowed to challenge the validity of the same order by successive petitions under Art. 226, cannot be answered merely in the light of the significance and importance of the citizens' fundamental rights. The general principle underlying the doctrine of res judicata is ultimately based on considerations of public policy. One important consideration of public policy is that the decisions pronounced by courts of competent jurisdiction should be final, unless they are modified or reversed by appellate authorities; and the other principle is that no one should be made to face the same kind of litigation twice over, because such a process would be contrary to considerations of fair play and justice, vide Daryao Vs. State of U.P., 1962-1 SCR 575; (AIR 1961 SC 1457).”
23. This Court in All India Manufacturers Organisation (supra) explained in clear terms that principle behind the doctrine of Res Judicata is to prevent an abuse of the process of Court.
24. In explaining the said principle the Bench in All India Manufacturers Organisation (supra) relied on the following formulation of Lord Justice Somervell in Greenhalgh Vs. Mallard – (1947) 2 All ER 255 (CA):
“I think that on the authorities to which I will refer it would be accurate to say that res judicata for this purpose is not confined to the issues which the court is actually asked to decide, but that it covers issues or facts which are so clearly part of the subject-matter of the litigation and so clearly could have been raised that it would be an abuse of the process of the court to allow a new proceeding to be started in respect of them.”
25. The Bench also noted that the judgment of the Court of Appeal in “Greenhalgh” was approved by this Court in State of U.P. Vs. Nawab Hussain – (1977) 2 SCC 806 at page 809, para 4.
26. Following all these principles a Constitution Bench of this Court in Direct Recruit Class II Engg. Officers’ Assn. Vs. State of Maharashtra – (1990) 2 SCC 715 laid down the following principle: 
“……an adjudication is conclusive and final not only as to the actual matter determined but as to every other matter which the parties might and ought to have litigated and have had decided as incidental to or essentially connected with subject matter of the litigation and every matter coming into the legitimate purview of the original action both in respect of the matters of claim and defence. Thus, the principle of constructive res judicata underlying Explanation IV of Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure was applied to writ case. We, accordingly hold that the writ case is fit to be dismissed on the ground of res judicata”
27. In view of such authoritative pronouncement of the Constitution Bench of this Court, there can be no doubt that the principles of Constructive Res Judicata, as explained in explanation IV to Section 11 of the CPC, are also applicable to writ petitions. 
28. Thus, the attempt to re-argue the case which has been finally decided by the Court of last resort is a clear abuse of process of the Court, regardless of the principles of Res Judicata, as has been held by this Court in K.K. Modi Vs. K.N. Modi and Ors. – (1998) 3 SCC 573. In paragraph 44 of the report, this principle has been very lucidly discussed by this Court and the relevant portions whereof are extracted below:
“One of the examples cited as an abuse of the process of the court is relitigation. It is an abuse of the process of the court and contrary to justice and public policy for a party to relitigate the same issue which has already been tried and decided earlier against him. The reagitation may or may not be barred as res judicata...” 
29. In coming to the aforementioned finding, this Court relied on the Supreme Court Practice 1995 published by Sweet & Maxwell. The relevant principles laid down in the aforesaid practice and which have been accepted by this Court are as follows: 
“This term connotes that the process of the court must be used bona fide and properly and must not be abused. The court will prevent improper use of its machinery and will in a proper case, summarily prevent its machinery from being used as a means of vexation and oppression in the process of litigation. ... The categories of conduct rendering a claim frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process are not closed but depend on all the relevant circumstances. And for this purpose considerations of public policy and the interests of justice may be very material.”
30. In the premises aforesaid, it is clear that the attempt by the appellant to re-agitate the same issues which were considered by this Court and were rejected expressly in the previous judgment in All India Manufacturers Organisation (supra), is a clear instance of an abuse of process of this Court apart from the fact that such issues are barred by principles of Res Judicata or Constructive Res Judicata and principles analogous thereto.

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