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.
To define and clarify the principle contained in Section 11 of the Code, eight Explanations have been provided.
Explanation I states that the expression `former suit’ refers to a suit which had been decided prior to the suit in question whether or not it was instituted prior thereto.
Explanation II states that the competence of a court shall be determined irrespective of whether any provisions as to a right of appeal from the decision of such court.
Explanation III states that the matter directly and substantially in issue in the former suit, must have been alleged by one party or either denied or admitted expressly or impliedly by the other party.
Explanation IV provides that any matter which might and ought to have been made a ground of defence or attack in such former suit shall be deemed to have been a matter directly and substantially in issue in such suit.
Constructive Res Judicata
The principle of CONSTRUCTIVE RES JUDICATA emerges from Explanation IV when read with Explanation III both of which explain the concept of “matter directly and substantially in issue”.
Explanation III clarifies that a matter is directly and substantially in issue, when it is alleged by one party and denied or admitted (expressly or impliedly) by the other.
Explanation IV provides that where any matter which might and ought to have been made a ground of defence or attack in the former suit, even if was not actually set up as a ground of attack or defence, shall be deemed and regarded as having been constructively in issue directly and substantially in the earlier suit.
Therefore, even though a particular ground of defence or attack was not actually taken in the earlier suit, if it was capable of being taken in the earlier suit, it became a bar in regard to the said issue being taken in the second suit in view of the principle of constructive res judicata.
Constructive res judicata deals with grounds of attack and defence which ought to have been raised, but not raised. The principle underlying Explanation IV to Section 11 becomes clear from Greenhalgh v. Mallard [1947 (2) All ER 257] thus:
“….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.”
In Direct Recruit Class II Engineering Officers’ Association v. State of Maharashtra [1990 (2) SCC 715], a Constitution Bench of Supreme Court reiterated the principle of constructive res judicata after referring to Forward Construction Co. v. Prabhat Mandal [1986 (1) SCC 100) thus:
“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.”
Alka Gupta v. Narendra Kumar Gupta (2010)