One of the problems faced by the Indian Judiciary for many years is overburdening with cases and its pendency. This happens in a situation when two different suits of the same issue, between the same parties, are instituted before different courts. Such a situation leads to a multiplicity of litigation and wastage of resources. To combat this situation, our legal system provides us with is the doctrine of res sub judice. In an attempt to understand the doctrine of res sub judice, here is an article, throwing light upon the meaning, statutory provision, object, and conditions necessary for the doctrine of res sub judice.
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What is res sub judice?
The term sub judice originated from the Latin word “under judgment.” It infers that a particular case is being considered by a court or a judge and is under trial. The Oxford Dictionary defines sub judice as a matter under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere. In other words, if a matter is pending before a court of competent jurisdiction, the same matter cannot be taken before another court or forum until it is pending. The concept of res sub judice is associated with the stay of the suit. To elaborate, if there are 2 or more suits instituted between the same parties involving the same subject matter, the subsequent suit will be stayed by the competent court. This can be done by passing an order, and such an order can be passed by the court at any stage.
What are statutory provisions related to res sub judice in India?
The concept of res sub judice is capsulized in Section 10 of The Code of Civil Procedure. You can read about an overview of the Bare Act here.
As per section 10,
“ No Court shall proceed with the trial of any suit in which the matter in issue is also directly and substantially in issue in a previously instituted suit between the same parties, or between parties under whom they or any of them claim litigating under the same title where such suit is pending in the same or any other Court in India having jurisdiction to grant the relief claimed, or in any Court beyond the limits of India established or continued by the Central Government and having like jurisdiction, or before the Supreme Court.”
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Clearly, this section mandates the prohibition of proceeding with the trial of the suit when the matter in issue is directly and substantially in issue in both the suits between the same parties. It is also necessary that the title claimed in both the suits should also be the same. To mention, this section does not reflect upon exactly identical issues between the two suits. For this section to prevail, it will be enough if the identity of the issue and the matter in issue is substantially the same.
The focus should also be drawn towards the opening words of the section “No Court shall proceed with the trial of any suit.” Apparently, this section bars the trial of a suit in the situations mentioned above. It does not bar the institution of the suit. Thus, the trial of a subsequently instituted suit is bound to have stayed upon the request of any party before a court. If a party requests the court trying that suit whose decision is pending, the subsequent suit shall have stayed. It is now well settled that the provisions under section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 are clear, definite, and mandatory.
What is the purpose of this provision?
The purpose of this section can be explained with the help of an example.
A’s company filed a suit against B’s company. A’s company alleged infringement of its trade name of water filters by B’s company. It also alleged the use and selling the same in the packaging identical to that of A’s. A subsequent suit was instituted by B’s company in a different court alleging the same issue. The competent court shall put stay on proceedings of the subsequent suit as the matter is still pending and involves the same issue.
The matter in both the suits are nearly similar and between the same parties. The decision of the first suit shall be binding, and there is no need for adjudicating upon the same case. A second trial on the same issue will lead to duplication. Contrary decisions may arise, and there would be no finality of judgment.
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Hence, the purpose or object of the doctrine of res sub judice is to avoid multiple litigations. No two courts of concurrent jurisdiction will simultaneously adjudicate upon two parallel litigation in respect of the same issue, same subject matter and same parties. The policy is to protect the litigant against frivolous litigation and unnecessary harassment. It will also bring finality to the judgment and reduces the burden on courts.
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What are the conditions for the application of the doctrine of res sub judice?
Now, let us consider the conditions which must be satisfied for the application of the principle of res sub judice. It is as follows:
There must be two or more suits.
There must be two or more suits out of which one of the suits are instituted previously to the other. The other suit is instituted subsequent to the previously instituted suit.
The matter in issue in the subsequent suit must be directly and substantially in issue in the previous suit.
The matter in issue constitutes the entire matter of the suit. It does not restrict itself to just one of the issues of the suit. In other words, the identity of some of the issues in both the suits will not attract Section 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. This can be explained through the decision in Sri Bhola Prasad v. Srimati Jagpata, 1954. The two parties are considered as A and B.
A filed a suit against B for recovery of rent for a certain period. B was a tenant to A and had agreed to pay a certain sum of money as rent. But B failed to pay the rent for 8 months. Meanwhile, A filed another suit for B’s eviction and to recover the arrears of rent for subsequent months. The matter in issue in the two will not be deemed to be the same, and hence, Section 10 would not apply.
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The parties to both suits should be the same.
To elaborate, the parties to a suit may be a plaintiff and defendant. Such a party should be the same in the subsequently filed suit as well. If there is no such record of the same parties, the doctrine of res sub judice will not be applicable.
The previously instituted suit must be pending in the court of law.
The pendency of a suit is the most important element to attract Section 10. If there is no subsequent suit that is pending in the court of law, then the whole base of this doctrine will be lost. The previously instituted suit can be pending in the same court in which the subsequent suit is brought. It can also lie pending in any other court established by the Central government.
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The parties should be litigating under the same title in both the suits.
The court in which the previous suit is instituted must have jurisdiction to grant the relief sought for in the subsequent suit.
Thus when a suit is pending in a court, not competent to try the suit subsequently instituted, the doctrine of res sub judice will not operate.
The provision of Section 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 is a general provision applicable to all categories of cases. The main objective is to avoid multiplicity of proceedings; it bars adjudicating upon two parallel litigation. This section applies to suits only and not to complaints and applications. It empowers the court to stay the proceedings of the subsequent suit. But if the previously instituted suit is pending in the foreign court, there is no bar to try the subsequent suit by the Indian Court.