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Previous Judgements under Evidence Act


Previous Judgments in Evidence Act


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Section 40-43(Previous Judgements)


Sections 40 through 43 encompass the discourse on the pertinence of judgments. Judgments, in their capacity as conclusive determinations or adjudications, are permissible as res judicata pursuant to this section, and as pertaining to matters of public concern according to section 42.


Judgments falling outside the purview of sections 40, 41, and 42 may hold relevance under section 43, provided their existence constitutes a factual matter in contention or is pertinent under another statutory provision.


 Previous Judgments Relevant to Bar a Second Suit or Trial


Under section 40 of the Indian Evidence Act, the presence of a judgement, decree, or order holds relevance if, by legal mandate, it bars any court from entertaining a suit or conducting a trial.


This provision aims to encompass all scenarios where a general law concerning res judicata inter partes is applicable. The primary objective of the doctrine of res judicata is to forestall the proliferation of suits and endless disputes among litigants.


Res judicata inherently denotes a matter upon which the court has rendered its judicial deliberation. Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure delineates the legal framework regarding res judicata.


In  C (a minor) v Hackney London Borough Council, (1996) 1 All ER 973 (CA), a resident of a Council house filed a suit against the Council citing health issues stemming from disrepair and dampness.


Subsequently, her dependent daughter initiated legal action based on the same facts, claiming disability. The court deemed the suit maintainable, reasoning that the prior suit did not involve the same parties.


It emphasised that since the daughter was not a party to the earlier proceedings, the doctrine of res judicata, even in its broadest interpretation, did not apply. The court reiterated the fundamental principle as follows:


The doctrine of res judicata in its expansive scope, which encompasses barring subsequent litigation not only on all issues settled in prior proceedings but also on every point pertinent to the subject matter of the dispute, applies solely when the cause of action or issue persists between the same parties or their predecessors in interest, and does not extend to those who were not parties to the earlier proceedings.


The term "a party to earlier proceedings" does not encompass a disabled and dependent child of one of the parties.


 Relevancy of Certain Judgments in Probate, etc., Jurisdiction


Section 41 comprises two distinct components. The first part renders the final judgement, order, or decree of a competent court in probate, matrimonial, admiralty, or insolvency matters relevant, while the second part establishes such judgments as conclusive proof in certain circumstances.


This section primarily concerns what are commonly referred to as judgments in rem, namely judgments that are conclusive not only against the involved parties but also against all others.


A judgement in rem is defined as an adjudication pronounced upon the status of a specific subject matter by a tribunal possessing the requisite authority for such determination.


The rationale behind this rule appears to be twofold: firstly, it ensures that anyone potentially affected by the decision has the opportunity to assert their rights by participating as a party in the proceedings, and secondly, judgments in rem not only declare the status of the subject matter but also, by virtue of their pronouncement, establish it as such.



Moreover, this principle is grounded in considerations of public policy, as it is crucial for the social harmony that the legal status of every member of the community be definitively determined through a single authoritative adjudication.



Effect of Judgments, Orders or Decrees, other than those mentioned in Section 41


Section 42 establishes the relevance of judgments concerning public matters, irrespective of whether they involve the same parties or not. It carves out an exception to the general principle that individuals should not be affected or prejudiced by judgments in which they are not directly involved or privy to.


This exception is made in favour of verdicts, judgments, and other determinations on subjects of public concern, such as customs, tolls, boundaries, ferry rights, road repairs, sea-walls, moduses, and similar issues.


In cases of this nature, where evidence of reputation is admissible, adjudications are treated as a form of reputation and are therefore accepted as evidence, regardless of whether the parties in the subsequent suit are the same as those in the initial one or are entirely unrelated.


However, the impact of the adjudication, when admitted, varies depending on whether the parties are the same in both suits. If they are, they are bound by the previous judgement; however, if the litigants in the second suit are strangers to those in the first, the judgement, though admissible, is not considered conclusive.


Under this section, the decrees issued by competent courts serve as valid evidence in matters of public interest, such as establishing the existence of a succession custom within a particular community or the presence of a tenure-holding custom.


Judgments Beyond Sections 40, 41, and 42

Section 43 stipulates that judgments, orders, and decrees not covered under sections 40, 41, and 42 are inherently irrelevant in the sense that they do not carry the same effect or operation as those delineated in the aforementioned sections.


However, this does not render them absolutely inadmissible if they serve as the best evidence of a matter that can be proven through other means.


This section explicitly envisages scenarios where judgments would be admissible under other sections of the Act, despite not meeting the criteria set forth in sections 40, 41, or 42.


Such cases include situations where a judgement is not utilised as res judicata or as binding evidence against an opponent due to its adjudicative nature. Instead, these are instances where the fact of a specific judgement being rendered is pertinent to the case at hand.


For example, if A brings a slander suit against B, alleging that B accused A of forgery, and B justifies the statement by claiming it to be true based on A's prior conviction for forgery, the conviction of A for forgery would be a fact to be proven by B, akin to any other fact in the case.


This scenario exemplifies one of the various cases contemplated in this section, where the fact of a particular judgement is crucial to the proceedings, irrespective of whether A was actually guilty of forgery or not.


Challenging Jurisdiction and Validity of Judgments, Orders, and Decrees


A party involved in a suit or any other legal proceeding may assert that a judgement, order, or decree, which is deemed relevant under section 40 (i.e., serving as res judicata between the parties), or under section 41 (as evidence of a judgement in rem), or under section 42 (as evidence pertaining to a public matter), and which has been presented by the opposing party, was rendered by a court lacking jurisdiction to issue it or was procured through fraud or collusion.


In such instances, it is not obligatory for the party against whom such judgement, order, or decree is being invoked to initiate a separate legal action to invalidate it.


Instead, the affected party has the opportunity within the same ongoing case where the judgement, order, or decree is being utilised against them, to contest its validity by demonstrating, if applicable, that the judgement, order, or decree being relied upon was rendered by a court lacking the requisite authority or was obtained through fraudulent or collusive means.



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