Para 11: The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to judicial decisions. The principle which prevents the same case being twice litigated is of general application and is not limited by the specific words of Sec. 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure in this respect. Res judicata applies also as between two stages in the same litigation to this extent that a court, whether the trial court or a higher court having at an earlier stage decided a matter in one way will not allow the parties to reagitate the matter again at a subsequent stage of the same proceedings. Satyadhyan Ghosal V/s. Deorajin Debi, AIR 1960 SC 941.
Para 7: The principle of res judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to judicial decisions. What it says is that once a respondent is judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. Primarily it applies as between past litigation and future litigation, When a matter - whether on a question of fact or a question of law - has been decided between two parties in one suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken to a higher court or because the appeal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvass the matter again. This principle of res judicata is embodied in relation to suits in sec. 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure; but even where sec. 11 does not apply, the principle of res judicata has been applied by courts for the purpose of achieving finality in litigation. The result of this is that the original court as well as any higher court must in any future litigation proceed on the basis that the previous decision was correct.
Para 10: In considering the essential elements of res judicata one inevitably harks back to the Judgement of Sir William B. Hale in the leading Duchess of Kingston's case, 2 Smith Lead Case. Said Sir William B. Hale "from the variety of cases relative to judgments being given in evidence in civil suits, these two deductions seem to follow as generally true: First, that the Judgement of a court of concurrent jurisdiction, directly upon the point, is as a plea, a bar, or as evidence, conclusive between the same parties, upon the same matter, directly in question in another court; Secondly, that the Judgement of a court of exclusive jurisdiction, directly upon the point, is in like manner conclusive upon the same matter, between the same parties, coming incidentally in question in another court for a different purpose." As has been observed by Halsbury, "the doctrine of res judicata is not a technical doctrine applicable only to records; it is a fundamental doctrine of all courts that there must be an end of litigation". Halsbury's Laws of England. Halsbury also adds that the doctrine applies equally in all courts, and it is immaterial in what court the former proceeding was taken, provided only that it was a court of competent jurisdiction, or what from the proceeding took, provided it was really for the same cause" "Res judicata", it is observed in Corpus Juris, "is a rule of universal law pervading every well regulated system of jurisprudence, and is put upon two grounds, embodied in various maxims of the common law; the one, public policy and necessity, which makes it to the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation- interest republiae ut sit finis litium; the other, the hardship on the individual that he should be vexed twice for the same cause- nemo debet is vexari pro eaden causa", Corpus Juris. In this sense the recognised basis of the rule of res judicata is different from that of technical estoppel. "Estoppel rests on equitable principles and res judicata rests on maxims which are taken from the Roman Law", . Therefore, the argument that res judicata is a technical rule and as such is irrelevant in dealing with petitions under Art. 32 cannot be accepted.
Para 25: It is now well established that, although the entire Civil Procedure Code is not applicable to industrial adjudication, the principles of res judicata laid down under Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, however, are applicable, wherever possible, for very good reasons. This is so since multiplicity of litigation and agitation and re-agitation of the same dispute at issue between the same employer and his employees will not be conducive to industrial peace which is the principal object of all labour legislation bearing on industrial adjudication. But whether a matter in dispute in a subsequent case had earlier been directly and substantially in issue between the same parties and the same had been heard and finally decided by the Tribunal will be of pertinent consideration and will have to be determined before holding in a particular case that the principles of res judicata are attracted.
Para 18: In the Reference Court or for that matter the High Court exercising its appellate jurisdiction u/s. 54 of the Act could not have dealt with the said question. The principle of res judicata is species of the principle of estoppel. When a proceeding based on a particular cause of action has attained finality, the principle of res judicata shall fully apply.
Para 29: In Y.B. Patil (supra) it was held:
"4... It is well settled that principles of res judicata can be invoked not only in separate subsequent proceedings, they also get attracted in subsequent stage of the same proceedings. Once an order made in the course of a proceeding becomes final, it would be binding at the subsequent stage of that proceeding..."
Para 30: It was further observed:
"In a case of this nature, however, the doctrine of 'issue estoppel' as also 'cause of action estoppel' may arise. In Thoday (supra) Lord Diplock held: "..."cause of action estoppel" is that which prevents a party to an action from asserting or denying, as against the other party, the existence of a particular cause of action, the non-existence or existence of which has been determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in previous litigation between the same parties. If the cause of action was determined to exist, i.e., Judgement was given on it, it is said to be merged in the judgment.... If it was determined not to exist, the unsuccessful plaintiff can no longer assert that it does; he is estopped per rem judicatam."
The said dicta was followed in Barber V/s. Staffordshire Country Council, 1996 2 AllER 748. A cause of action estoppel arises where in two different proceedings identical issues are raised, in which event, the latter proceedings between the same parties shall be dealt with similarly as was done in the previous proceedings. In such an event the bar is absolute in relation to all points decided save and except allegation of fraud and collusion.
Para 23: Contention of Mr. Savant must be tested on the premise as to whether the principle of res judicata applies in a case of this nature.
Principle of res judicata is undoubtedly a salutary principle. Even a wrong decision would attract the principle of res judicata. The said principle, however, amongst others, has some exceptions, e.g., when a judgment is passed without jurisdiction, when the matter involves a pure question of law or when the judgment has been obtained by committing fraud on the court.
Para 24: Two legal principles which would govern a case of this nature, are:
(i) A decision rendered without jurisdiction being a nullity, the principle of res judicata shall not apply.
ii) If a fraud has been committed on the court, no benefit therefrom can be claimed on the basis of thereof or otherwise.
Para 25: In support of the first principle, we may at the outset refer to Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh and Others V/s. L.V.A. Dixitulu, 1979 2 SCC 34 wherein this Court, while discussing the effect of Sec. 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure on a pure question of law or a decision given by a court without jurisdiction, opined:
"Moreover, this is a pure question of law depending upon the interpretation of Art. 371D. If the argument holds good, it will make the decision of the Tribunal as having been given by an authority suffering from inherent lack of jurisdiction. Such a decision cannot be sustained merely by the doctrine of res judicata or estoppel as urged in this case."
The principle of res judicata is a procedural provision. A jurisdictional question if wrongly decided would not attract the principle of res judicata. When an order is passed without jurisdiction, the same becomes a nullity. When an order is a nullity, it cannot be supported by invoking the procedural principles like, estoppel, Waiver or res judicata."(See also Dwarka Prasad Agarwal (D) By LRs. and Anr. V/s. B.D. Agarwal and Ors., 2003 6 JT 398, Union of India V/s. Pramod Gupta, 2005 12 SCC 1 and National Institute of Technology and Ors. V/s. Niraj Kumar Singh, 2007 2 SCC 481).
Para 19: We must now proceed to state our conclusion on the preliminary objection raised by the respondents. We hold that if a writ petition filed by a party under Art. 226 is considered on the merits as a contested matter and is dismissed the decision thus pronounced would continue to bind the parties unless it is otherwise modified or reversed by appeal or other appropriate proceedings permissible under the Constitution. It would not be open to a party to ignore the said Judgement and move this Court under Art. 32 by an original petition made on the same facts and for obtaining the same or similar orders or writs. If the petition filed in the High Court under Art. 226 is dismissed not on the merits but because of the laches of the party applying for the writ or because it is held that the party had an alternative remedy available to it, then the dismissal of the writ petition would not constitute a bar to a subsequent petition under Art. 32 except in cases where and if the facts thus found by the High Court may themselves be relevant even under Art. 32 If a writ petition is dismissed in limine and an order is pronounced in that behalf, whether or not the dismissal would constitute a bar would depend up on the nature of the order. If the order is on the merits it would be a bar; if the order shows that the dismissal was for the reason that the petitioner was guilty of laches or that he had an alternative remedy it would not be a bar, except in cases which we have already indicated. If the petition is dismissed in limine without passing a speaking order then such dismissal cannot be treated as creating a bar of res judicata. It is true that, prima facie, dismissal in limine even without passing a speaking order in that behalf may strongly suggest that the Court took the view that there was no substance in the petition at all: but in the absence of a speaking order it would not be easy to decide what factors weighed in the mind of the Court and that makes it difficult and unsafe to hold that such a summary dismissal is a dismissal on merits and as such constitutes a bar of res judicata against a similar petition filed under Art. 32. If the petition is dismissed as withdrawn it cannot be a bar to a subsequent petition under Art. 32. Because in such a case there has been no decision on the merits by the Court. We wish to make if clear that the conclusion thus reached by us are confined only to the point of res judicata which has been argued as a preliminary issue in these writ petitions and no other. It is in the light of this decision that we will now proceed to examine the position in the six petitions before us.