Civil Law

Res Sub Judice under Section 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure

By Aleena Anna Sabu

Introduction

India’s legal system is built on several principles or doctrines. Such doctrines are important because of two reasons. For starters, these principles or doctrines can be seen as a tool to evaluate the efficiency of the judiciary. Another helpful aspect is to make sure the court is maintaining the momentum in achieving justice.     

Let us consider a scenario to understand Res Sub – Judice with the help of an illustration. Mr. X and Mr. Y are in a legal dispute. Mr. X approaches Court A for relief regarding the same. Even after waiting long – for many years altogether – the case still remains on trial and neither party gets any relief. In the meantime, Mr. Y files a suit for the same relief in a different Court B against Mr. X. But with the case pending in Court A, the only way Court B can proceed with the trial is to put a stay on the first suit filed by Mr. X in Court A. This aspect is explained in Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908.        

The doctrine of Res sub – judice cannot be found in any part of the whole of the code of Civil Procedure. But Section 10 of the Code enumerates this concept. The doctrine of res sub – judice ensures that the identical suit with the parallel fundamental issues is not to parallel courts several times. It is important to guarantee that the courts’ time is used in a productive manner. 

Meaning of Res Sub-Judice

Res means matter, cause, or litigation, and Sub – judice is a Latin word that means ‘under the consideration of a judge or a court. Under the doctrine of res sub – judice a competent court can put a stay on proceedings of a trial of another court in case the same litigants file multiple cases for identical objectives. The reason for this doctrine is to put a stop to the accumulation of cases in courts. It keeps a check by making sure the plaintiff is not getting a double benefit. More importantly, the doctrine is meant to avoid the possibility of two opposite verdicts by different courts for the same relief. 

A direct root of the doctrine of res sub – judice is hard to find. It can be found in Roman law as an extension of the doctrine of res judicata which means ‘previous judgment’. In the legal history of India importance of the doctrine was understood by various Hindu and Muslim Jurists. For example, the rule of res sub – judice can be seen in Hindu law. It was popularly known as Purva Nyaya or former judgment. 

Stay of Suit

The word ‘Suit’ in the general sense means a civil motion filed by giving a formal complaint. The suit is not defined in the Civil Procedure Code of 1908. In the case of Pandurang Ramchandra Mandlik v Smt. Shantabai Ramchandra Ghatge [1989 AIR 2240] the term ‘suit’ was understood as any claim for which a person seeks a relief provided by the Code in any court.  

Section 10 of the Code explains ‘Stay of Suit’. The intention is to stop Courts of parallel jurisdiction from concurrently deciding on two corresponding suits concerning the identical cause of action, issues of dispute, and damages.  The view is that filing a later suit is not prohibited even nonetheless the lawsuit might not proceed. The term ‘trail’ is not used in its broadest sense and so it does not include filing of a summary suit. This Section only permits a ‘stay’ and not adjournment of proceedings. ‘Stay of suit’ is not available in any other cases insinuated under other statutes but to the Code of Civil Procedure. Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 does not extend to suits pending in foreign courts.    

Objective 

The objective of the principle of res sub – judice is to

  • Prohibit any parallel trial on the same issues between the parties of the earlier suit.
  • Regulate valuable time of courts
  • Avoid conflicting decisions on the same matter by different competent courts.
  • Lessen the burden on courts
  • Stay out of unnecessary delay.
  • Keep safe the rights of parties

In the case of Doctor Guru Prasad Mohanty and Ors. vs Bijoy Kumar Das [AIR 1984 Ori 209] the Orissa High Court held that the intention of the law is to avoid any conflicting interests and to refrain from having any divergent decisions. The High Court of Orissa opined that if a merger of the two suits will lead to the intention of the law, then it is not hampering the guideline of the doctrine of res sub – judice in the first place.   

Scope

Regarding the scope of this Section, it can be understood that staying on secondary suit relates to trial and not proceedings. Section 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 is actually a mandatory provision. This means that no court can exercise its discretion on the stay order of the later suit. But this does not mean that the court is deprived of its authority of the trial if there were to be a suit of stay. The court is still allowed to oversee the proceedings as long as it is not conducting a trial. 

Conditions 

The doctrine is only appropriate if the following conditions are met:

  • There have to be at least two suits filed, that is, a suit filed already and a suit filed later on.  
  • The basic matter of the second suit filed must to a great extent be the issue of the previous suit. It is not necessary that matter is identical per se. 
  • The previous suit and the suit filed later on must have the same parties.
  • The adjudication of the first suit should be going on in a court
  • The title of the earlier-filed suit and the subsequent one must be the same.

There have to be at least two suits filed, that is, a suit filed already and a suit filed later on. 

Here the proceedings for the previously filed suit should be pending in a court which is capable and has the authority for the same. This means that the court in question has not delivered the final judgment. And later on, a second suit filed in the same or any other court should also be on the same grounds.

The earlier suit ought to be ongoing in 

  • the same court where it was filed or 
  • in some other competent court in India or 
  • in any court established outside the Indian territory under the Central Government or 
  • in the Supreme Court of India.

In case the earlier suit was filed in a foreign court but later on the second suit is filed in any court in India by the prior mentioned parties seeking the same damages, the principle of res sub – judice will not be applicable.  

The basic matter of the second suit filed must to a great extent be the issue of the previous suit. It is not necessary that matter is identical per se. 

In situations where the whole point of dispute is not similar, then the court may use its capacity under Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The court can put a stay on the later trial or even take up both the trials together by merging them. This is a discretionary power of the courts and the exercise of the power is only justified when there was a misuse in the proceedings of the court. 

To stay a suit according to Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 one of the most important ingredients is that the entire issue of both the suits must be identical. This was further explained by the Gujarat High Court that if only one of the issues of both the suit is similar then such scenarios do not attract Section 10 – Sohal Engineering Works vs Rustam Jehangir Vakil Mills Co. [AIR 1981 Guj 110].  

‘Matter in issue’ can be classified as matter in issue either directly or substantially or matter collaterally and sub-ordinary in the issue. This classification is as per the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.  

The previous suit and the suit filed later on must have the same parties.  

If not the parties, then their representatives can be a part of the suit. The representatives comprise the legal representative of the parties including their agents

The adjudication of the first suit should be going on in a court

It could be in the same court or any other court which is capable and has the authority. If the earlier suit is pending before a court that, say, has no authority, then there is no legal effect to it. The burden of proof lies on the defendant of the later suit to prove that the first suit is still pending. 

The title of the earlier-filed suit and the subsequent one must be the same.

If these prerequisites are satisfied, then the courts are obliged to not proceed with the suit which was filed later. The order of stay can be obtained during the proceedings.

What if the conditions are not fulfilled?

If prerequisites are not fulfilled then the later suit cannot stay. This was explained in the case of Neeta vs Shiv Dayal Kapoor and Others [Civil Revision No.998 of 201]. In this case, the courts where the suits were filed were not of concurrent jurisdiction. As the conditions were not satisfied according to Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 the proceedings of the later suit did not stay.

This means that the res sub – judice doctrine will not be applied when issues in the suits are different or distinct from each other as held in the case of Alimmllah vs. Sheikh [43DL RLL3] and Abdul vs. Asrafun [37 DLR 271].

According to the Supreme Court in the case of Aspi Jal And Anr vs Khushroo Rustom Dadyburjor [CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2908 OF 2013], mere common ground between two suits is not a sufficient ground to attract Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. 

In the case of Life Pharmaceuticals Private limited vs Bengal Medical Hall [AIR 1971 Cal 345] the Calcutta High Court a stay order can be filed against the latter suit at any stage of the proceedings.

Other powers conferred to civil courts 

In case of a scenario where Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 cannot be applied in its absolute sense, a civil court has been given an inherent power under Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 to stay a suit. Such power is given for the purpose of a civil court to achieve justice.  

Inherent is an extensive word. The meaning of the word ‘Inherent’ in this Section comprises an indivisible part of something or an element or feature or quality that is both permanent and essential. It is vital and attached to a person or object. Therefore, inherent powers are the powers of the courts that are inalienable. 

Another way to achieve justice was explained in the case of Bokaro and Ramgur Ltd. v. the State of Bihar and Another [1963 AIR 516]. According to this Supreme Court, verdict courts can try to merge suits. This power is available when the same parties to a suit, having a dispute on the same subject – matter or issues in general might have filed suit somewhere else.   

The main objective of the doctrine is to make sure the courts with concurrent jurisdiction are not giving conflicting decisions for identical relief. In Anurag and Co. and Anr. vs. Additional District Judge and Others [AIR 2006 Raj 119] the Rajasthan High Court interpreted the doctrine of res sub – judice and explained that “consolidation of suits under Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is provided to offer justice to the deserving party. It is also to free the parties from amassing cases or even delay in receiving relief and other expenses they might have to bear.” Also, the parties to the suit are relieved from their duty to produce the same pieces of evidence and documents in two different courts. 

Consequences of Counter Action

It is very clearly accepted that it is not the institution of a later suit that is banned under Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. According to the doctrine, only trial proceedings or pending proceedings can stay. But the parties to the suit can waive this right conferred to them. So, the courts can actually proceed with the later suit filed by the party if both the parties decide to renounce their rights. But renouncing their rights also means that at a later stage either party cannot question the credibility of the proceedings pertaining to the second suit.

Interim orders

An interim order is a kind of temporary order that the court passes just before the final order. Such orders are passed for a limited span of time. If an order of stay is passed by any court, this does not mean that the court’s power to pass an interim order is taken away. So, a court being ordered to stay on a suit can pass interim orders like injunction if it deems to pass such an order necessary.

Can a countersuit be filed if the judgment has already been given?

The doctrine of res judicata can be found in Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. Res judicata refers to already decided cases. The doctrine of res judicata prohibits the continuation of legal proceedings of the same matter between the same parties when the final judgment for the case has already been given by the same or any court prior to the court. The purpose of this doctrine is to suppress any injustice the parties to the dispute might face when initially the dispute was resolved by such a resolution which barred any kind of claims in the future. It is also to make sure that the defendant does not have to pay twice for the same harm. 

Both the doctrines of res sub – judice and res judicata are also used as an instrument to make sure courts do not end up using resources unnecessarily and also make sure that conflicting decisions for the same issues are not given causing confusion.

How is res sub-judice different from res judicata?

Res judicata is applied to already decided cases whereas res sub – judice is applied to proceedings that are still in their trial phase. 

Res judicata puts a bar on the trial or issue of a suit, which has already been settled by a prior suit. In the case of res sub – judice the bar is on a trial for a suit the judgment for which has not been pronounced yet in a court of concurrent jurisdiction in a suit filed earlier. 

Both the doctrines can be found in the Civil procedure Code of, 1908. Res judicata is dealt with under Section 11 of the Code whereas, res sub – judice is in Section 10. 

Conditions for res judicata

  • With regards to the former suit, a decision must be given for the same by a competent court.
  • The matter of the later suit is very much similar to the earlier suit.
  • The parties to the later suit must be the same as the parties of the earlier suit.
  • The court from which the decision for the earlier suit was given should be of competent jurisdiction.
  • The title of the litigation should be the same or in the same capacity.

Conditions for res sub – judice 

  • There have to be two suits – one filed earlier and a later filed suit.
  • The matter of the later suit is very much similar to the earlier suit.
  • The parties to the later suit must be the same as the parties of the earlier suit.
  • The court from which the decision for the earlier suit was given should be of competent jurisdiction.
  • The title of the litigation should be the same or in the same capacity.

Other important aspects of res sub-judice explained through cases

Escorts Const. Equipment Ltd v. Action Const Equipments Ltd [IA No. 2460 and 4638/98]

Facts: In the present case the defendant, Acton Const Equipment Limited had filed a stay on the present suit under Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The ground for such a petition was that the same suit had been pending in the Jamshedpur court as well. The plaintiff, Escorts Const. Equipment Limited in the present case disagreed with this ground. They claimed that the defendant, with regards to the suit, raised the issue of jurisdiction of the Jamshedpur Court previously. They further argued that an application under Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 can only be entertained if an objection regarding the jurisdiction was pulled out in the Jamshedpur Court by the defendant.

Judgment: the court laid down requisites to invoke Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

  1. Matters in both the suits are similar to an extent.
  2. The suits must be between the same parties.
  3. The previous suit filed in the same (or different) court has to have jurisdiction to grant the relief parties expect to receive.

This means that nothing is essentially stopping the defendant from questioning the competency of previous courts. The plaintiff had actually not brought up the competency of the Jamshedpur Court as a ground for defense to Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. In this case, the relief was granted to the defendant.

Indian Bank v. Maharashtra State Co-Operative Marketing Federation limited [AIR 1998 SC 1952] 

Facts: The Indian bank filed a summary suit in the High Court of Bombay against the Maharashtra State Co-operative Marketing Federation for obtaining an order to recover a certain amount that was to become recoverable under the Letter of Credit. The Maharashtra State Co-operative Marketing Federation appeared before the court to seek a stay on this summary suit against the Indian bank on the ground that the Maharashtra State Co-operative Marketing Federation had already filed a suit against them for recovery prior to the filing of the summary suit.

Judgment: the court held that stay on the trial of a subsequently instituted suit under Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is not applicable to the summary suit filed by the Indian bank. 

M/s. Dees Pistons (P) Ltd. v. State Bank of India & Another [O.P. No. 18 of 1989]

In this case, the petition filed on the ground that the same matter pending in District Forum, Jaipur will not be considered by the National Commission when a similar subject matter is unresolved under the Consumer Protection Act. 

National Institute of MH & NS v. C. Parameshwara [AIR 2005 SC 242]

In this case, the Supreme Court of India gave something similar to a litmus test to find out whether a stay of suit would be applicable in a given scenario. The test is to basically see whether the earlier suit received any decisions or not. Such a decision is the res judicata to the later suit.

Pukhraj D. Jain v. G. Gopalkrishna [AIR 2004 SC 3504]

In Pukhraj’s case, the Supreme Court decision limited the power of the Civil courts. It held that a plea for stay filed under Section of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 does not give a court justifiable reason to examine the merits of a suit. It was further explained that the court can easily decide on such matters looking into other legalities than asking for evidence pertaining to it. Of Course, the courts also have the duty to not leave a suit pending and to decide on such issues

Manohar Lal Chopra v. Rai Bahadur Rao Raja Seth Hiralal [1962 AIR 527]

According to the Supreme Court the language of Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, was straightforward, precise, and obligatory. The Section puts a bar on the trial of later suits even if the earlier trial was in breach of the agreement of the parties.  

Conclusion

It would be really inconvenient for everyone involved in a court process when the same suits involving the same parties on the same subject – matter is being brought up in multiple courts. It would be too hectic for the parties involved. They will have to submit important documents or produce evidence among other things in all the courts the case has been filed. When one court is already proceeding with the case, involving other courts is ultimately taking away courts’ time and unnecessary usage of courts’ resources as well. There are already a lot of disputes that are happening and the court is overburdened with plenty of cases too. But more importantly, asking someone to pay multiple times for the damages caused by them should be avoided. They have been punished already for the wrong they had done, but one cannot punish someone for the same mistake twice.  

The doctrine of res sub – judice is a very important doctrine. It ensures the smooth functioning of the judiciary. The underlying idea behind the doctrine is to tackle all the above-mentioned problems. Firstly, the doctrine intends to minimize the burden of the courts. Secondly, it ensures that such unrequired trials do not end up depleting the resources of the courts. Thirdly, the doctrine verifies to make sure parties are not getting double benefits and misusing the power. Most importantly, the doctrine keeps a check and makes sure two courts of concurrent jurisdiction do not give conflicting judgments for the same subject – matter.     

The doctrine of res sub – judice is a power given to civil courts. The underlying principle of the doctrine of res sub – judice is based on the principle that amassing of cases should be avoided and no one should be asked to pay twice for the damages for the same cause of action. It is vital to rigorously execute the doctrine of res sub – judice because of the increasing number of repetitive suits in India. This doctrine is of importance in this Code of Civil Procedure to not only quicken the method of delivering the justice the grievous parties deserve but also to cut back the amount of work in overfilled courts of our country. But it is also important that the meticulous implementation of this doctrine should not end the very ‘essence’ of justice.

Categories: Civil Law

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