Judgment of civil or criminal court

The judicial system, which is to uphold the law and to administer justice, is made up of several specialised courts that are intended to deal with specific legal matters. The criminal and civil courts are two examples of these, each having distinct rules and objectives. The jurisprudential boundaries between these domains, if based on the same facts, are blurred and subject to the interpretations. This paper is an attempt to study the impact of civil court decisions on criminal cases and vice versa.


The term “judgment” is defined in Section 2(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 19081. A judgment contains facts of the case, the issues involved, the evidence brought by the parties, finding on issues (based on evidence and arguments). Every judgment shall include a summary of the pleadings, issues, finding on each issue, ratio decidendi and the relief granted by the court. On the other hand, judgment is not defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 19732 as such but what a judgment should contain is mentioned in Section 354 of the Code. It is required to contain inter alia point or points for determination, the decision thereon and the reasons for the decision. The relevancy of judgment has evolved from the Evidence Act, 18723. The Evidence Act particularly deals with the subject of evidence and its admissibility and includes the provisions regarding the judgment of the Court of justice. The group of Sections 40 to 44 of the Evidence Act, 1872 (Sections 3438 of the Sakshya Adhiniyam, 20234) deals with the relevancy of the judgments in the courts, civil and criminal both.

Some of the principles can be said to be that a judgment in the criminal trial is not relevant in the civil case except for the purpose of showing the fact of trial and conviction for it. For the same reason, a civil judgment is not relevant to a criminal trial though arising out of the same facts.

The provision of the Evidence Act bears similarities to Section 300 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Section 337 of the Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023) and Article 20(2) of the Constitution of India. These provisions establish the principle of “autrefois convict”, or double jeopardy, that is an individual cannot be punished twice for the same offence.

On the other hand, Section 11 of the Code, applies the principle of res judicata to bar a subsequent suit if, the conditions, laid down in Section 11 of the Code are satisfied. Res judicata is the legal doctrine that states that parties cannot relitigate a case that has already been decided by a court of competent jurisdiction and has reached a state of finality.

In a similar vein, the doctrine of estoppel forbids parties from reagitating particular dispute that have already been decided in a prior court case involving the same parties.

Scope and objective of Sections 40-44 of the Evidence Act

Section 40 aims to expedite court proceedings and prevent the trial of comparable suits or criminal prosecution. To put it simply, it stipulates that the presence of a prior judgment, order, or decree is a relevant fact to prevent any court from holding a trial, when the question is whether such court ought to take cognizance of such suit or to hold such trial or take cognizance of the civil suit. The principal is that one person, who has faced either the civil proceedings or criminal trial once should not be vexed again provided the issue raised is on the same facts. Section 41 of the Evidence Act provides two kinds of jurisdiction: (i) judgments in rem — a judgment or order which confers upon or takes away from any person any legal character, or which declares any person to be entitled to any such character, or to be entitled to any specific thing in the exercise of probate, matrimonial, admiralty or insolvency jurisdiction, that exists between the two parties, is also applicable to the entire world; (ii) judgments in personam — judgments that do not affect the status of any subject-matter, person, or anything and only bind the parties to the suit. A judgment or order dismissing a petition for dissolution of marriage does not change the character of the parties as the parties would continue to be husband and wife. Thus, such judgment or order would not be relevant in terms of Section 41 of the Evidence Act, though it is rendered in matrimonial jurisdiction.

As per Section 42, the judgment, order, or decree, other than those relating to probate, matrimonial, admiralty or insolvency jurisdiction, are relevant if it relates to matters of a public nature relevant to the enquiry; but such judgments, orders or decrees are not conclusive proof of that they state. This is thus, conferring a status of relevancy to a judgment or order of public nature in comparison to disputes between inter partesSection 43 states that judgments, orders, or decrees, other than those mentioned in Sections 40, 41 and 42, are irrelevant, unless the existence of such judgment, order or decree is a fact in issue, or such judgments, orders or decrees is relevant under some other provision of this Act. Section 43 has 6 illustrations giving examples, when such judgment, order or decree can be considered relevant and/or irrelevantSection 44 of the Evidence Act deals with the competency of the court to deliver judgment, order or decree which is relevant under Sections 40, 41 and 42, proved by other party as not competent or obtained by fraud or collusion in obtaining judgment, or incompetency of court, may be proved. It is a general rule of res judicata that no party shall raise the similar issue before the court which the court has already decided. However, there is an exception to this rule provided under Section 44 of the Evidence Act, 1872 which states that the judgment, order or decree was made: (i) by the incompetent court; (ii) was obtained by way of fraud; (iii) was obtained by collusion; and (iv) then the party may file a suit for the annulment of the case only when the same is proved by the adverse party. The said section empowers a litigant to challenge a previous adjudication as invalid due to fraud or collusion, even if it was otherwise final and binding.


In a reference to Full Bench, in the judgment in B.N. Kashyap v. Crown5, the Division Bench of the Lahore High Court noticed that, “it would appear that the weight, of authority is more in favour of holding that the judgment of the civil court would not be relevant as evidence in the criminal proceedings and that both courts must come to an entirely independent decision, if called upon to do so”. It was observed that:

the fact is that the issues in the two cases although based on the same facts (and strictly speaking even parties in the two proceedings) are not identical and there appears to be no sufficient reason for delaying the proceedings in the criminal court, which, unhampered by the civil court, it is fully competent to decide and which must be in the nature of things decided speedily.

The Full Bench held as under:

… It is quite clear that the mere existence of a judgment in the present case is not relevant. Learned counsel for the petitioner saw this difficulty and wished to rely on Section 11 of the Act. But I cannot see how could that section have any application when the existence of that judgment as apart from any finding contained therein or even the finding itself could neither be inconsistent with any fact in issue or a relevant fact. Nor could such judgments either by themselves or in connection with other facts make the existence or non-existence of any fact in issue or relevant fact in any subsequent proceedings highly probable or improbable. This section only refers to certain facts which are either themselves inconsistent with, or make the existence or non-existence of, the fact in issue or a relevant fact highly probable or improbable and has no reference to opinions of certain persons in regard to those facts. It does not make such opinions relevant and judgments after all of whatever authority are nothing but opinions as to the existence or non-existence of certain facts. These opinions cannot be regarded to be such facts as would fall within the meaning of Section 11 of the Act unless the existence of these opinions is a fact in issue or a relevant fact which is of course a different matter.

*    *    *

As for the Chief Court decision, Mr Justice Rattigan assumed that in all cases of the kind with which he was dealing the proper tribunal to decide was a civil court “and that save for very exceptional reasons the decision of the civil court should be accepted as conclusive between the parties”. There is no reason in my judgment as to why the decision of the civil court particularly in an action in personam should be allowed to have that sanctity. There appears to be no sound reason for that view. To hold that when a party has been able to satisfy a civil court as to the justice of his claim and has in the result succeeded in obtaining a decree which is final and binding upon the parties, it would not be open to criminal courts to go behind the findings of the civil court is to place the latter without any valid reason in a much higher position than what it actually occupies in the system of administration in this country and to make it master not only of cases which it is called upon to adjudicate but also of cases which it is not called upon to determine and over which it has really no control. The fact is that the issues in the two cases although based on the same facts (and strictly speaking even parties in the two proceedings) are not identical and there appears to be no sufficient reason for delaying the proceedings in the criminal court, which, unhampered by the civil court, it is fully competent to decide and which must be in the nature of things decided speedily….6

The Supreme Court in Anil Behari Ghosh v. Latika Bala Dassi7, was examining the question “whether the testator was murdered by his adoptive son Charu who was a legatee under the will”. The High Court had held on the basis of the judgment of conviction and sentence passed by the High Court that the adoptive son was the murderer. The Supreme Court however held as under:

14. … Though that judgment is relevant only to show that there was such a trial resulting in the conviction and sentence of Charu to transportation for life, it is not evidence of the fact that Charu was the murderer. That question has to be decided on evidence….8.

Though the Supreme Court has not referred to any provision in the Evidence Act, it is clear that the court has laid down that the question in issue has to be decided on the evidence in the proceeding and that the judgment of conviction is irrelevant except for showing that there was a trial, conviction and sentence. The position is no different on a judgment of acquittal.

In the judgment of State of Bihar v. Radha Krishna Singh9, the Supreme Court outlined how crucial it is to follow stringent evidentiary guidelines and make sure that all evidence is reliable and admissible in accordance with the law. The judgment stresses on the need for each case to be evaluated on its own merits and with thorough evaluation of the evidence presented. The Court observed as below:

135. The cumulative effect of the decisions cited above on this point clearly is that under the Evidence Act a judgment which is not inter partes is inadmissible in evidence except for the limited purpose of proving as to who the parties were and what was the decree passed and the properties which were the subject-matter of the suit. In these circumstances, therefore, it is not open to the plaintiff-respondents to derive any support from some of the judgments which they have filed in order to support their title and relationship in which neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants were parties. Indeed, if the judgments are used for the limited purpose mentioned above, they do not take us anywhere so as to prove the plaintiffs’ case.

In Narayanan v. Mathan Mathai10, in a suit for damages for malicious prosecution, the High Court held that the law is well-settled by a long line of decisions that the judgment of the criminal court is evidence merely to show that the prosecution has terminated in favour of the plaintiff and that its findings and reasonings are irrelevant being opinion evidence and that the civil court has to reach its conclusion on the evidence produced before itself.

In K.G. Premshanker v. Inspector of Police11, the Supreme Court held that “if judgment of a civil court is not binding on a criminal court, a judgment of a criminal court will certainly not be binding on a civil court”. The Supreme Court overruled judgment reported as V.M. Shah v. State of Maharashtra12, wherein it was held that the finding recorded by the criminal court stands superseded by the finding recorded by the civil court.

In Syed Askari Hadi Ali Augustine Imam v. State (Delhi Admn.)13, the Supreme Court held that Section 43 of the Evidence Act categorically states that judgments, orders, or decrees, other than those mentioned in Sections 40, 41 and 42 are irrelevant, unless the existence of such judgment, order, or decree, is a fact in issue, or is relevant under some other provisions of the Act. It also held that a judgment rendered by a Probate Court is a judgment in rem. It is binding on all courts and authorities. Being a judgment in rem it will have effect over other judgments. A judgment in rem indisputably is conclusive in a criminal as well as in a civil proceeding.

The Patna High Court in Ramadhar Chaudhary v. Janki Chaudhary14, examined the question of relevancy of the judgments of the civil and criminal courts and delineated the extent to which such judgments can be referred in subsequent proceedings. The Court held that the facts stated in the judgment, statements of the evidence of the witnesses or the findings given are not admissible in evidence. The Court held as under:

35. Such orders are evidence of the following facts, all of which appear from the orders themselves, namely, who the parties to the dispute were; what the land in dispute was; and who was declared entitled to retain possession. The reasonings in the judgment, and the conclusions drawn from them, are not binding or conclusive. Even in civil cases there is no provision in the Evidence Act by which actual decision or the findings arrived at in a previous judgment can be used as evidence to decide the points which are in issue in a case, unless such decision operates as “res judicata”, or is relevant under Sections 40 to 42 to prove assertion of a right, etc.

In Kallu v. Antulal15, the Madhya Pradesh High Court refused to admit a judgment of the civil court on the ground that the present appellants were not parties to the said suit, hence, the question of res judicata or any other bar does not arise. The Court has explained the scope of Sections 41 to 44 of the Evidence Act in this judgment.


Section 41 of the Evidence Act, 1872, facilitates the interplay between civil and criminal proceedings by allowing the judgments of one court to become relevant in another. The judgment though relevant, other conditions satisfied, is only in respect of the fact that the proceedings were initiated, subject-matter of dispute and the parties. The conclusion and not the pleadings or the evidence or even the basis of the findings cannot be used in either civil or criminal proceedings.

It is pertinent to note that the criminal and civil cases have different burdens of proof. Therefore, evidence presented in a civil proceeding may still be admissible in evidence in a subsequent criminal trial as the previous statement given on oath, and vice versa. Even though a judgment may not have a direct bearing on a criminal case.

In accordance with Indian law, the idea that the goals and standards of proof of criminal and civil proceedings are different underlines the applicability of civil court rulings in criminal cases and vice versa. The balance of probabilities is the standard of proof in civil courts, which handle disputes involving rights, obligations, and liabilities between people or entities. Criminal courts, on the other hand, decide whether an accused person is guilty, or innocent based on evidence that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nonetheless, in some situations, decisions made by civil courts may have bearing on criminal proceedings. For example, a criminal trial may benefit from the context or important evidence that comes from a civil court’s ruling. For instance, the finding of fraud or breach of contract by a civil court may provide credence to criminal charges of cheating or forgery or in the case of IP disputes. Section 43 of the Evidence Act, 1872 permits pertinent civil judgments to be admitted into criminal proceedings; however, these judgments do not serve as definitive evidence of the facts, or the findings contained within.

On the other hand, judgments given by criminal courts may have an impact on civil cases, especially when the result of a criminal trial directly affects civil rights or obligations. For instance, a civil lawsuit for damages may be supported by a criminal conviction for assault to the extent of proof of conviction. But because civil cases have different standards of proof, the finality and conclusiveness of criminal judgments do not automatically transfer to civil cases.

Even though Indian law allows for the interaction of civil and criminal judgments, each case needs to be assessed according to its own set of facts, considering the different goals and evidentiary needs of the respective systems.

†Former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and Chairperson, India International Arbitration Centre

1. Civil Procedure Code, 1908, S. 2(9) (for short “the Code”).

2. Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

3. Evidence Act, 1872.

4. Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023, Ss. 3438

5. 1944 SCC OnLine Lah 46.

6. 1944 SCC OnLine Lah 46.

7. 1955 SCC OnLine SC 61.

8. Anil Behari Ghosh case, 1955 SCC OnLine SC 61.

9. (1983) 3 SCC 118.

10. 1981 SCC OnLine Ker 155.

11. (2002) 8 SCC 87.

12. (1995) 5 SCC 767.

13. (2009) 5 SCC 528.

14. 1955 SCC OnLine Pat 109.

15. 2008 SCC OnLine MP 203.

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