“Res Judicata” is a Latin maxim which means ‘the thing has been judged’ or ‘things already adjudged’, meaning thereby that the issue before the Court has already been decided by another Court, between the same parties. Res Judicata, as a concept, is applicable both in case of Civil as well as Criminal legal system.
The term is also used to mean as to ‘bar to re-litigation’ of such cases between the same parties, which is different between the two legal systems. Once a final judgment has been announced in a lawsuit, the subsequent judges who are confronted with a suit that is identical to or substantially the same as the earlier one, they would apply the Res-Judicata doctrine to preserve the effect of the first judgment. This is to prevent injustice to the parties of a case supposedly finished, but perhaps mostly, to avoid unnecessary waste of resources and time of the Judicial System. Therefore, the same case cannot be taken up again either in the same or in the different Court of India. This is just to prevent them from multiplying judgments, so a prevailing plaintiff may not recover damages from the defendant twice for the same injury.
The provisions of Section 11 of C.P.C. are not exhaustive even though it has very wide and enlarged amplitude. Section 11 of C.P.C. “does not affect the jurisdiction of the Court” but “operates as a bar to the trial” of the suit or issue. If the matter in the suit was directly and substantially in issue (and finally decided) in the prior suit between the same parties litigating under the same title in a Court, they are barred to litigate the subsequent suit in which such issue has been raised. Thus, this doctrine of Res Judicata is a fundamental concept based on public policy and private interest. It is conceived in the larger public interest, which requires that every litigation must come to an end. It therefore, applies to civil suits, execution proceedings, arbitration proceedings, taxation matters, writ petitions, administrative orders, interim orders, criminal proceedings, etc.
An ordinary litigation being a party or claiming under a party of a former suit cannot avoid the applicability of section 11 of C.P.C. as it is mandatory except on the ground of fraud or collusion as the case may be. The onus of proof lies on the party relying on the theory of Res Judicata. The provisions of section 11 of C.P.C. are “not directory but mandatory”. The judgment in a former suit can be avoided only by taking recourse to section 44 of the Indian Evidence Act on the ground of fraud or collusion.
The doctrine of res judicata has been explained in the simplest manner in Satyadhyan v/s. Deorajin Debi, as- "The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving finality to judicial decisions. What it says is that once a res judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. Primarily it applies as between past litigation and future litigation. When a matter, whether on a question of fact or a question of law, has been decided between two parties in one suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken to a higher court or because the appeal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter again"
In Sulochana Amma v/s. Narayanan Nair, it has been observed that, "S. 11 embodies the rule of conclusiveness as evidence or bars as a plea an issue tried in an earlier suit founded on a plaint in which the matter is directly and substantially in issue and became final. In a later suit between the same parties or their privies in a court competent to try such subsequent suit in which the issue has been directly and substantially raised and decided in the judgment and decree in the former suit would operate as res judicata. S. 11 does not create any right or interest in the property, but merely operates as a bar to try the same issue once over. In other words, it aims to prevent multiplicity of the proceedings and accords finality to an issue, which directly and substantially had arisen in the former suit between the same parties or their privies, been decided AIR 1960 SC 941 and AIR 1994 SC 152 and became final, so that parties are not vexed twice over, vexatious litigation would be put to an end and the valuable time of the court is saved. It is based on public policy, as well as private justice. They would apply, therefore, to all judicial proceedings whether civil or otherwise. It equally applies to quasi-judicial proceedings of the tribunals other than the civil courts".
The doctrine of res judicata is based on three maxims-
(i) nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa which means no man should be vexed twice for the same cause;
(ii) interest republicae ut sit finis litium which means it is in the interest of the State that there should be an end to a litigation; and
(iii) res judicata pro veritate occipitur which means a judicial decision must be accepted as correct.
Thus, the doctrine of res judicata is the combined result of public policy reflected in maxims (2) and (3) and private justice expressed in maxim (1); and they apply to all judicial proceedings whether civil or criminal. Thus, there should be an issue raised and decided, not merely a finding on an incidental question for reaching such a decision. If such issue is not raised and if on any other issue, if, incidentally and finding is recorded, it would not come within the periphery of principle of res judicata .