Breach of Res Judicata principle is abuse of process of Court

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.


A Constitution Bench of this Court in Devilal Modi v. Sales Tax Officer, Ratlam and 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 Article 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 v. State of U.P., (1962) 1 SCR 575 : AIR 1961 SC 1457.

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.

In explaining the said principle the Bench in All India Manufacturers Organisation (supra) relied on the following formulation of Lord justice Somervell in Greenhalgh v. 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.

The Bench also noted that the judgment of the Court of Appeal in “Greenhalgh” was approved by this Court in State of U.P. v. Nawab Hussain, (1977) 2 SCC 806 at page 809, para 4.

Following all these principles a Constitution Bench of this Court in Direct Recruit Class II Engg. Officers’ Assn. v. 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

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.

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 v. 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….

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.

Refer: JT 2011 (2) SC 23 : (2011) 2 SCALE 160 : AIR 2011 SC 1113 : (2011) 3 SCC 408 : (2011) 2 SCR 435

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