Res judicata means a thing adjudicated’ that is an issue that is finally settled by judicial decision. The Code deals with res judicata in section 11, relevant portion of which is extracted below (excluding Explanations I to VIII):

11. Res judicata.–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”

Section 11 of the Code, on an analysis requires the following essential requirements to be fulfilled, to apply the bar of res judicata to any suit or issue:

(i) The matter must be directly and substantially in issue in the former suit and in the later suit.

(ii) The prior suit should be between the same parties or persons claiming under them.

(iii) Parties should have litigated under the same title in the earlier suit.

(iv) The matter in issue in the subsequent suit must have been heard and finally decided in the first suit.

(v) The court trying the former suit must have been competent to try particular issue in question.

Application of Res Judicata on different stages of same proceeding

It is now well-settled that principles of res judicata applies in different stages of the same proceedings.

[See Satyadhyan Ghosal and others Vs. Smt. Deorajin Debi and another, AIR 1960 SC 941) and Prahlad Singh Vs. Col. Sukhdev Singh [(1987) 1 SCC 727].

In Y.B. Patil and Others Vs. Y.L. Patil [(1976) 4 SCC 66] it was held:

“4. It is well settled that principles of res judicata can be invoked not only in separate subsequent proceedings, they also get attracted in subsequent stage of the same proceedings. Once an order made in the course of a proceeding becomes final, it would be binding at the subsequent state of that proceeding…”

In Vijayabai and Others Vs. Shriram Tukaram and Others [(1999) 1 SCC 693], it was held:

“13. We find in the present case the Tahsildar reopened the very question which finally stood concluded, viz., whether Respondent 1 was or was not the tenant of the suit land. He further erroneously entered into a new premise of reopening the question of validity of the compromise which could have been in issue if at all in appeal or revision by holding that compromise was arrived at under pressure and allurement. How can this question be up for determination when this became final under this very same statute ?…”

Yet again in Hope Plantations Ltd. Vs. Taluk Land Board, Peermade and Another [(1999) 5 SCC 590], Supreme Court laid down the law in the following terms:

“17. 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.”

It was further held:

“31. Law on res judicata and estoppel is well understood in India and there are ample authoritative pronouncements by various courts on these subjects. As noted above, the plea of res judicata, though technical, is based on public policy in order to put an end to litigation. It is, however, different if an issue which had been decided in an earlier litigation again arises for determination between the same parties in a suit based on a fresh cause of action or where there is continuous cause of action.

The parties then may not be bound by the determination made earlier if in the meanwhile, law has changed or has been interpreted differently by a higher forum. But that situation does not exist here. Principles of constructive res judicata apply with full force. It is the subsequent stage of the same proceedings.

If we refer to Order XLVII of the Code (Explanation to Rule. 1) review is not permissible on the ground “that the decision on a question of law on which the judgment of the Court is based has been reversed or modified by the subsequent decision of a superior court in any other case, shall not be a ground for the review of such judgment”.”

Differences between ‘Issue estoppel’ and ‘Res Judicata’

There is a distinction between ‘issue estoppel’ and ‘res judicata’.

Res judicata debars a court from exercising its jurisdiction to determine the lis if it has attained finality between the parties whereas the doctrine issue estoppel is invoked against the party. If such an issue is decided against him, he would be estopped from raising the same in the latter proceeding. The doctrine of res-judicata creates a different kind of estoppel viz Estoppel By Accord.

In a case of this nature, however, the doctrine of ‘issue estoppel’ as also ‘cause of action estoppel’ may arise. In Thoday vs. Thoday [1964 (1) All. ER 341, Lord Diplock held:

” “cause of action estoppel” is that which prevents a party to an action from asserting or denying, as against the other party, the existence of a particular cause of action, the non-existence or existence of which has been determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in previous litigation between the same parties. If the cause of action was determined to exist, i.e., judgment was given on it, it is said to be merged in the judgment. If it was determined not to exist, the unsuccessful plaintiff can no longer assert that it does; he is estopped per rem judicatam.”

The said dicta was followed in Barber vs. Staffordshire Country Council, (1996) 2 All ER 748. A cause of action estoppel arises where in two different proceedings identical issues are raised, in which event, the latter proceedings between the same parties shall be dealt with similarly as was done in the previous proceedings. In such an event the bar is absolute in relation to all points decided save and except allegation of fraud and collusion. [See C. (a minor) Vs. Hackney London Borough Council, (1996) 1 All ER 973].


Bhanu Kumar Jain vs Archana Kumar [2004]