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by alatwal Feb 10th 2022

“Before leaving this case I would like to mention that though the doctrine of res judicata was evolved by Indian jurists under the title of “prang nyaya” yet due to 200 years of British tutelage, many of us have not heard of prang nyaya and use instead of the Latin phrase, res judicata, though few of us know Latin or can pronounce this phrase correctly.”

Allahabad High Court Lala Jageshwar Prasad vs. Shyam Behari Lal, AIR 1967

Every law enthusiast who is familiar with the procedural part of civil litigation cannot take the risk of ignoring the importance of the doctrine of “res judicata” while going through the provisions of Civil Procedure Code. It is one of the most important legal principles in civil litigation, which basically dispenses an important function of putting end to the endless loop of civil litigations filed on the same grounds by the same parties in the court of law.

In Civil Procedure code, the doctrine founds its expression under section 11, read as follows:

“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 the 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”. So this provision puts an express bar on the civil litigations that are found to be agitated between the same parties, litigating under the same title on the matter directly and substantially in issue in the previous litigation.

In terms of application the rule of Res Judicata would apply to all judicial proceedings. It equally applies to all quasi-judicial proceedings of the tribunals,  it has always been accepted as a plea of Defence. The onus to prove that particular issue raised in a subsequent suit is res judicata is always upon the defendant who takes the plea. It also applies to writ proceedings under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. A writ petition under Article 226 is filed before the judiciary i.e., High Court, challenging the detention of a person that is dismissed. A writ petition under Article 32 is filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Now in terms of precedents, this legal principle, as correctly summed up by Allahabad High Court, has its root in ancient Indian text. It is founded on the ancient Indian Principle of prang-nyaya which means (previous judgment). The principle is stated in Brihaspati Samiti : “If a person who has been defeated in a suit according to law files the plaint once again he must be told that he has been defeated already; this is called a plea of prang-nyaya”.

Recently this fact was reiterated by the sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Adbul Nazeer in his addressing speech in 16th National Council Meeting of Akhil Bhratiya Adhivakta Sangathan, where he categorically stated that, “doctrine such as res judicata (prang nyaya) were prevalent in the ancient Indian judiciary”.

The major impact of these findings is that they ultimately bring back the debate of decolonising the Indian legal system. To sum up in the words of Justice Adbul Nazeer, “great lawyers and judges are not born but are forged by proper education and great legal traditions, as were Manu, Kautilya, Katayana, Brihaspati, Narada, Parashara, yajnavalkya, and other legal giants of ancient India. The continued neglect of their great knowledge and adherence to the alien colonial legal system is detrimental to the goals of our Constitution and against our national interest”.  Therefore it is high time to acknowledge the credit where it is due.