This article is written by Shubhangi Sharma, a 5th-year student of BA LLB in Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida. The article discusses about false imprisonment in tort law.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
What is false imprisonment?
Wrongful imprisonment occurs when a person (who does not have the legal right or justification) is intentionally restricts another person from exercising his freedom. When someone intentionally restricts another person’s freedom, he can be found liable for false imprisonment in civil and criminal courts. The factors which constitute false imprisonment are:
- Probable cause of imprisonment.
- Plaintiff’s knowledge for imprisonment.
- Intent of defendant during imprisonment and confinement period matters.
This is applicable to both private as well as government detention. Under criminal law, whether the restraint is total or partial, the same is actionable. When the restraint is total and the person is prevented from going out of certain circumscribed limits, the offence is that of ‘wrongful confinement’ as defined in Section 340 of IPC. Under this, the Indian Penal Code punishes wrongful imprisonment. Section 339 to 348. When it comes to the police, proving false imprisonment is sufficient to obtain the writ of Habeas Corpus. It is not mandatory that the person should be put behind bars, but he should be confined in an area from which there are no possible ways of escape except the person’s will who has confined him. Depending on the laws of a particular jurisdiction, wrongful imprisonment can also be a crime, as well as intentional tort.
Under the pretext of false imprisonment, one does not have to lock the person up, which amounts to confinement. Basically, the defendant has to ‘unjustifiably’ restrain an individual to a particular area where a reasonable person, in a normal situation, would believe that they cannot leave. The plaintiff must have sufficient cause to believe that he would be harmed if he attempted to leave that particular bounded area. However, if that individual remains in that area willingly or after giving his own consent, not obtained through coercion or undue influence, it is not a case of false imprisonment.
False imprisonment occurs when there is an unjustified restraint on an individual without his consent and where the individual cannot leave the area or they reasonably believe that they cannot leave the area.
Under the law of tort, false imprisonment can be termed as the complete deprivation of liberty for any amount of time, no matter how limited or small the time period is, without any lawful excuse or proper justification.
Some of the situational examples of false imprisonment are as follows:
- The defendant’s locking the plaintiff in a room without his permission is a case of false imprisonment. However, if the plaintiff is aware of the fact, it is not false imprisonment.
- A security guard or a police officer detains an individual due to their appearances or use of some religious symbols for an unreasonable amount of time also falls under the category of false imprisonment.
- An armed robber in a bank restraining the right of the employees and customers to move freely is another example of false imprisonment.
- False imprisonment in nursing is considered when any patient is restrained from meeting their relatives in the hospital or nursing home or is subjected to neglect or abuse there by the caregivers. It also includes deliberate medication given to a patient without their consent under physical or emotional threat.
- Terrorist organisations or criminal groups taking hostages of innocent people is considered as false imprisonment since the movements of the people taken hostage are severely restrained and they remain in a serious and life-threatening condition.
Situations that are not considered as false imprisonment
To constitute false imprisonment, imprisonment in the general meaning is not mandated. When a person is deprived of his personal liberty, whether by being confined within the four walls or by being prevented from leaving the place where he is, it is false imprisonment.
The essentials required for the tort of false imprisonment are:
- The liberty of an individual should be totally restrained.
- It should be without any lawful justification or any reasonable cause.
Every type of restraint does not fall under the area of false imprisonment, especially if it does not contain any of the elements mentioned. The following are some examples of situations with relevant cases which are not considered as false imprisonment.
Consent of the plaintiff
An important element that decides whether any situation should be considered as false imprisonment or not is the consent provided by the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is either aware of the facts or has provided consent to be restrained, it is not considered a false imprisonment. However, the consent provided by the plaintiff should be free of any fraud, coercion, or undue influence.
The landmark mental health law case of R (L) v Bournewood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust (1997) deals with the fact of whether the admission of a mentally ill patient with the capacity to provide consent to a psychiatric hospital amounts to false imprisonment or not. The plaintiff was an autistic person who was admitted to the hospital for nearly thirty years. Thereafter, he was discharged and lived under the supervision of a caregiver. While attending the hospital for a regular checkup, he became extremely agitated and was once again admitted to the hospital.
A case was filed on his behalf claiming that the action of hospital authorities amounted to wrongful detention since the patient himself did not provide the consent. The Queen’s Bench Division held that the patient hardly had the capacity to comprehend the situation and hence he was not detained.
Entering any premise under a contract
If an individual enters into any premise after having agreed to any contract and he has to stay there longer than the time period mentioned in the contract, it is not considered as false imprisonment.
In the case of Robertson v. the Balmain New Ferry Company Ltd. (1909), the plaintiff wanted to cross the river by ferry, and so he paid a penny for the ferry ride. However, he missed his ferry and decided to leave. So, the ferry company asked him to pay another penny to leave. He did not agree to pay another penny as asked. Hence, the ferry company prevented him from leaving the premises unless he paid the penny. The plaintiff sued the company for false imprisonment.
It was ruled that since he entered into a contract to pay for entering, riding, and leaving the ferry, he was bound to pay the amount asked by the ferry company. It did not amount to false imprisonment. The defendant company had the reasonable authority to charge money and prevent him from leaving when he refused to pay, since it was the plaintiff who had agreed to the contract earlier.
In another landmark case, Herd v. Weardale Steel Coal & Coke Ltd. (1915), the plaintiff, Herd, was a miner who agreed to work in the mine from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm. He was lifted from the mine with the help of a lift after the end of the workshift. However, on that particular day, he wanted to go up to the surface at 11:00 am but was not lifted until 1:30 pm. For that period of time, he was detained and filed a suit for damages under false imprisonment.
It was held that there was no false imprisonment under the defence of volenti non fit injuria, where the plaintiff intentionally places himself in a dangerous or harmful position. Here, the plaintiff willingly went inside the mine and hence is not entitled to claim damages under false imprisonment.
In the case of Roles v. Nathan (1963), the defendant was the owner of a premise with a central heating boiler, and two chimney sweepers died in the basement while repairing an old chimney due to the carbon monoxide present in chimney fumes. However, the deceased were warned of the facts, but they did not pay any heed. Due to this, it was held that the defendant was not liable.
Restraint by persons with lawful authorities
If a person is arrested by people who possess the appropriate lawful authorities, it is not termed as a false imprisonment. However, the restraint should follow just and fair legal procedures.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides the right to protection of life and personal liberty and provides that liberty can only be compromised according to the just and fair procedures laid down by the laws of the land.
Section 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides that the authorities should inform a person of the details of the offences for which he is being arrested or taken into custody.
Restraint by parental or quasi-parental authority
Restraint or detention of minors or persons of unsound mind by their parents or legal guardians is also not considered as false imprisonment since the restraint is usually performed for the well-being of the concerned minor or person of unsound mind.
Under the tort, quasi-parental authorities are the authorities provided by the parents to third party persons such as teachers or babysitters. They can also perform acts of detention or restraint within the course of their duty for the well-being of the child and it is not considered as false imprisonment.
In the case of R.C. Thampan and Ors. vs. The Principal, Medical College (1978), the Kerala High Court held that a teacher has the quasi-parental authority to proceed with disciplinary action against a student.
In the case of Eisel v. Board of Education (1991), the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that reasonable professional behaviour should be the norm in situations where one possesses quasi-parental authority. Here, Nicole Eisel, a thirteen year old girl made several suicidal statements to her classmates some of informed the Counsellor of her intentions. The counsellor advised the student but did not inform her parents about the matter. Later, the girl committed suicide, and her father filed a suit against the school authorities. The Court also ruled that the school authorities, especially the student counsellor, possessed quasi-parental authority.
The doctrine of shopkeeper’s privilege is a special provision provided by the United States Tort Law which enables a shopkeeper to detain an individual under reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed the offence of shoplifting. It is a privilege provided to shopkeepers to detain any individual suspected of theft without the liability of false imprisonment.
A shopkeeper is entitled to the privilege if he satisfies the following conditions:
- The individual was restrained for a limited time and was detained for the purpose of investigation.
- Has justified reasons to believe that the individual committed the offence of shoplifting.
- No excessive force was used on the individual, and he was not harmed.
- The individual was detained only for the limited period of time required to gather evidence of shoplifting.
- If proven guilty, the news has to be communicated to the police, and the guilty should be handed to them.
Elements of false imprisonment
All states have laws regarding false imprisonment designed for protecting people from being confined against their will. The laws of each state vary, but in general, certain constituents of false imprisonment must be present to prove a legal claim. To prove a false imprisonment claim in a civil suit, the following elements must be present:
False imprisonment or restraint must be intentional or wilful. Accidentally closing the door when someone is on the other side is not a wrongful confinement or false imprisonment. Wilful detention applies to intentional restraint in any form, including physically restraining a person from exiting, physically locking him in a building, room, or from other places, and restraining him from leaving through force or intimidation.
The intention factor
Generally, the tort of false imprisonment must be intentional. A person is not liable for false imprisonment unless his or her act is done for the purpose of imposing a confinement or with knowledge that such confinement, to a substantial certainty will result from it. for this tort, Malice is irrelevant . It is ordinarily upon the judges to determine from the evidence, as a question of fact, the intention of the defendant in an action for false imprisonment.
Knowledge of the plaintiff
The detention of another person would have been wrong. There is no requirement that the plaintiff claiming another person for false imprisonment was aware of his restraint on his freedom at the time of his confinement.
In the case of Herring v Boyle, it has been held that such knowledge is essential , in that case a schoolmaster wrongfully refused to permit a schoolboy to go with his mother unless the mother paid an amount alleged to be due to him , the conversation between the mother and schoolmaster was made in the absence of the boy and he was not cognizant of the restraint. It was held that the refusal to the mother in the boy’s absence, and without his being cognizant of the restraint, could not amount to false imprisonment.
In the case of Meering v Graham White Aviation, the claimant was asked to go to a room with two work policemen from the Aviation company. He asked why and stated he would leave if not told. When told it was on suspicion of theft he agreed to stay, and the works police stood outside until the metropolitan police arrived. Unknown to him they were asked to prevent him leaving. It was held that an act which fulfils the requirement for a false imprisonment, even if the claimant is unaware of it at the time, still counts. Meering was entitled to damages.
Total restraint of liberty
The purpose of the tort of false imprisonment is to maintain an individual’s liberty of unrestricted movement. So there should be the imposition of total restraint on the liberty of an individual for a particular period without any lawful justification. If the defendant intentionally restricts the freedom of the plaintiff and the plaintiff, as a reasonable person finds no way to use his liberty, it is considered as a false imprisonment.
In the landmark case of Bird v. Jones (1845), the plaintiff was prohibited by the police from crossing a particular area of public road which was closed due to a boat race. However, he was free to pass from all the other directions of the public road which were not closed. It was held that partial restraint does not fall under false imprisonment since he could have easily used the other directions.
In the case of Jwala Prasad vs S.N. Varma (1970), the Allahabad High Court held that the arrest of a citizen without any lawful justification is the total restraint of his physical liberty and the plaintiff is entitled to damages for the wrong of false imprisonment.
The intention factor (More content for existing heading)
As mentioned earlier, false imprisonment is an intentional tort, and the common element of an intentional tort is that the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with intention. An individual acts with intent when he acts for the specific purpose of causing a specific consequence.
The defendant must have committed the restraint intentionally or must intend to do an act that results in the restraint of the plaintiff.
In the case of W. Elphinstone v. Lee Leng San (1938), the plaintiff was restrained by a police officer mistakenly at the entrance of the court for the charge of driving without proper brakes. The plaintiff claimed that he was arrested due to the negligence of the police officer.
It was held that in order to establish the tort of false imprisonment, the intention of the defendant is a prerequisite. Since the police officer had no intention to unlawfully restrain the plaintiff, it is not a case of false imprisonment.
The defendant’s conduct must be unlawful. In this context, ‘unlawful’ means unconsented to or unprivileged. It must be proved that the defendant was not justified in restraining the plaintiff. A plaintiff who agrees to be restrained has consented and therefore cannot bring the claim of false imprisonment. If an individual has the authority to restrain the plaintiff, such as the police, the plaintiff cannot bring the claim because the police have the privilege to restrain the individual.
So, it must be shown that the defendant had no valid legal reasons or authority to detain the plaintiff and that the plaintiff did not give any consent. Hence, the defendant’s act was unconsented or unprivileged.
In the case of T. Subramani vs. State of Tamil Nadu (2012), the plaintiff suffered a wrongful order of detention of one year in a central prison. Subsequently, the order was quashed and he was offered compensation. It was also noted by the Madras High Court that he was an agriculturist and from a respectful family who protested the forceful conversions of poor Hindus to other religions with money and other benefits. He also sent complaints against the defendant IAS and the Inspector of Police for failing to stop forceful conversions. In return, they conspired against the plaintiff and caused his wrongful loss. The Court held that he suffered from false imprisonment due to “wrongful exercise and misuse of power” and was entitled to get compensation.
Force or threat of force
Use of force or the threat to use force to restrain someone else also comes under false imprisonment. In such a situation, the plaintiff may prove before the court that the defendant forcefully restrained the plaintiff. However, it is also enough to show that the defendant threatened to use force. Due to the threat, the plaintiff has been forced to comply with the defendant. Words and other types of communication may be reasonably interpreted as a threat. However, it may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between what a reasonable person would consider a sufficient threat of force or whether the plaintiff has voluntarily agreed to be restrained.
The Madras High Court in the case of Chinnamuthu Ambalam vs S. Jagannatha Chariar (1958) held that the tort of false imprisonment is usually accompanied with force or threat of force.
The tort of false imprisonment protects a person’s interest in being free from restraint. The bounded area does not mean putting the plaintiff under lock and key, which falls under the tort of confinement. For example, a person can be falsely imprisoned in a car if the driver of a car refuses to stop and let the person out even though the doors are unlocked.
A person can even be restrained to a bounded area in the open streets of a city. The point is that the defendant sets boundaries to restrain the person.
However, it requires total restraint to the bounded area to qualify for false imprisonment. So, if the individual blocks the passage in one direction only and allows him to go another way, it is not considered as false imprisonment since there are reasonable ways to leave the bounded area. Similarly, if an individual shuts another in a room but there is an exit that the person can access, it is not a bounded area.
The Delhi District Court in the case of Rajesh Duggal vs Union of India (2017) ruled that for committing the tort of false imprisonment, the plaintiff is only required to prove that he was imprisoned by the defendants or their servants during the time of employment. Here, the plaintiff filed a suit for damages for wrongful arrest and detention. The plaintiff, in this case, was a victim of false imprisonment due to the actions of the defendants and the police. Even though the plaintiff had criminal charges against him, he successfully proved that he was falsely imprisoned and was awarded the damages.
Knowledge or ignorance of the plaintiff (More content for existing heading)
The element of knowledge under this tort reflects the purpose of the tort, which is to protect a person’s knowledge that he is free to move around. If he is not aware that he cannot move around as he pleases, there is no real interference that the law recognises. So a person who is not conscious at the time of the restraint, cannot fulfil the requirement of false imprisonment.
Alternatively, even after having the knowledge, if the person is able to prove in court that he was physically harmed during the restraint, it will be considered false imprisonment. So, if a plaintiff, even if unaware but suffering from injuries due to the acts of the defendant, can satisfy this element.
Omission of duty
Under the law of tort, omission is the act of not doing something or the failure to act. In ordinary situations, the tort of false imprisonment is not committed by an act of omission. However, in some situations, it may be committed due to omission.
In the case of Regina v. Governor of Her Majesty’s Prison Brockhill Ex Parte Evans (2000), Evans was sentenced to two years of prison but was entitled to a reduction of terms under the Criminal Justice Act, 2003. However, she had to remain in the prison for an extra 59 days due to the miscalculation made by the governor of the prison. She claimed damages for false imprisonment.
The Court of Appeal awarded her £5,000 for damages for false imprisonment, against which the governor appealed. The appeal was dismissed by the House of Lords, and they upheld the previous judgement.
No mandatory requirement of damage
The damage is not considered to be an essential element to prove false imprisonment under the law of tort in the prima facie case. This is because the damage to the plaintiff is in the action of the defendant itself, i.e., the restraint. The law presumes damage once the elements of the case have been demonstrated. False imprisonment may be maintained without showing proof of actual damage. However, it does not imply that the plaintiffs are not entitled to or cannot claim damages.
Defences of false imprisonment
The most common defense for false imprisonment is the lack of one or more of the elements. For example, if the victim agrees to imprisonment, then wrongful imprisonment did not occur. However, there are other defenses that can be used to defend a false imprisonment claim. Below are common defenses of false imprisonment claims:
False arrest claims are not valid if a person was detained due to lawful arrest or due to arrest under law, if they have probable cause to consider a person to have committed a felony, or engaged in wrongdoing. In addition, a person can be legally detained for arresting a citizen without reason.
Consent to Restraint
A person who consents to be restrained or confined without the presence of fraud or coercion or misconduct cannot subsequently claim to be a victim of false imprisonment. Therefore, voluntary consent to false imprisonment is often a defense to false imprisonment.
In the case of Robinson vs. Balmin New Ferry Company Ltd. the plaintiff wanted to take a ferry across a river. In order to get to the wharf from which the ferry would depart, he had to go through the turnstile which was managed by the defendants. As the notices on either side made it clear that the charge of using the turnstile was one penny. The plaintiff gave the penny, went through the turnstile and waited on the wharf for the ferry to arrive and pick him up. The plaintiff took decision not to take the ferry and changed his plans. He wanted to go through the turnstile for which the defendants demanded payment resisted by saying that if he wanted to use the turnstile than he was supposed to pay one penny. The plaintiff refused to pay the penny and the defendants didn’t allow him to use the turnstile. The plaintiff sued the defendant’s claiming that they had falsely imprisoned him. The court dismissed his claim by stating that if he walked through the turnstile than he voluntarily agreed to take the risk , that if he would not pay a penny than he will not be allowed to go back, he would be imprisoned by the defendants.
This is a complete defense of action for false imprisonment and false arrest. When probable cause is established by the action then false imprisonment and false arrest completely fails. It is stated that the probable cause test for imprisonment and arrest is an objective one, which is not based on the actual crime on the individuals, but on the basis of reliable facts or information which would lead a person to take the usual precautions as an offender. A defendant in an action of false imprisonment or false arrest has established a probable cause of alleged tort from which he has no additional obligation to prove it. Even if probable cause exists, malicious intent will not support a claim.
Sometimes imprisonment can be justified on the basis that the defendant was acting in support of the law. The blame for the legal justification lies on the defendant.
Volenti non fit injuria
The literal meaning of the Latin maxim volenti non fit injuria is that “to a willing person, it is not wrong.” Under this maxim, no plaintiff can enforce a right he willingly surrendered. The consent factor of the plaintiff comes into the scenario for this defence. The consent of the plaintiff may be expressed or implied. If the plaintiff willingly suffers any restraint, it should not be considered as a false imprisonment. Hence, if a plaintiff knowingly suffers restraint, he cannot claim false imprisonment.
The defence of volenti non fit injuria is not applicable in case of medical professionals during their course of duty. In the case of Laxman Balkrishna Joshi v. Trimbak Bapu Godbole And Anr (1968), the son of the Respondent, suffered a fracture in leg. He was given first aid and was subsequently moved to the appellant’s hospital. The appellant directed his assistant to give two doses of injection, but only one was injected. The patient was then treated in the operation theatre. However, the patient’s health deteriorated and he died.
A suit was filed against the appellant on the ground that the reduction of the fracture was performed on the patient without proper anaesthesia and with the application of manual forces for which the patient ultimately died.
Here, the Supreme Court of India held that a doctor should apply due care to his patient. If he does not perform his duties properly, even with the consent of the patient, he will be liable for the patient’s suffering even after giving consent.
In the English case of White v. Blackmore (1972), the husband of the plaintiff, Mr. White, was an experienced racer. After finishing off the race, he willingly stood near the ropes instead of returning to the tracks. Another car became entangled and a “winching effect” was produced. As a result, Mr. White was seriously injured and died.
The Court ruled that the man did not die during the competition. Though there were “defects in the safety arrangement”, he was standing in a position where he was not supposed to be. Hence, the defence of volenti non fit injuria is not applicable here.
In another English case, Cafest v. Tombleson (2003), the plaintiff entered the skating rink and broke her wrist due to a fall. However, she avoided the beginner’s rink despite being totally inexperienced. She filed a case against the defendant on the ground that the defendant did not provide her with wrist guards and she was not aware of them. The Court of Appeal accepted the defence of volenti non fit injuria because, as a reasonable person, she must be aware of the risks, and the defendants also display warning signs of the risks associated with skating.
Thus, the defence of volenti non fit injuria will be applicable in two situations:
- Knowledge of the risk
- Willingness to accept the risk
If the restraint is performed by the members of law enforcement such as the police having lawful authority with a warrant, it is a lawful detention and is not false imprisonment. Furthermore, if an individual is suspected to have committed any offence, the police have the right to detain him for a reasonable period to determine if he is guilty of the crime.
In another situation, if an individual creates obstruction in the interest of peace in society, he cannot claim false imprisonment.
In the case of Austin v. Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (2007), during the May Day riots of 2001 in London, the police applied a police tactic called “kettling” (forming a large cordon of police officers to detain protesters or to lead them to exit forcefully) to control a huge crowd of protestors. During this, the two appellants, Ms. Austin, a peaceful protester, and Mr. Saxby, a passerby not involved in the protest, were also detained. They filed a suit for damages for false imprisonment. The Court of Appeal held that, even though they were victims of false imprisonment, it was an exceptional situation employed to maintain peace and public order.
In some countries, such as the United States, a citizen’s arrest, i.e., an arrest made by a private citizen without a warrant if he witnesses any crime taking place in his presence, is permissible by the law. A citizen’s arrest is also recognised by Section 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in India.
Under the Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850, a suit for detention by judicial authority for using the judicial powers conferred is not maintainable. However, this is not applicable if the judicial officer acts mala fide and outside his jurisdiction.
In the case of Sailajanand Pande vs. Suresh Chandra Gupta and Anr. (1968), the plaintiff was harassed and wrongfully imprisoned by a magistrate who had no lawful authority to do so, and the area where the plaintiff resided was far from his own jurisdiction. The Patna High Court held that he was not entitled to the protections offered under the Act and was liable for the false imprisonment of the plaintiff.
In another case of State Of Uttar Pradesh vs Tulsi Ram (1971), the respondent was prosecuted along with three others but was acquitted later. The respondents filed a suit claiming compensation against the judicial officer and the State. The lower court held that the judicial officer is protected by the Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850, and the state is vicariously liable for committing the offence of false imprisonment. An appeal was filed in the Allahabad High Court. The Court held that the state was not liable because the act was done to discharge the lawful duties. Furthermore, the judicial officer did not perform any judicial functions. He merely issued warrants, which was an executive function. Hence, the judicial officer is liable for the false imprisonment of the plaintiffs, and the protection under the Act could not be applicable to the said judicial officer.
If an individual is restrained partially, it does not amount to false imprisonment. If the plaintiff had enough opportunity to move freely and escape, thereby making the nature of the restraint partial, the tort of false imprisonment would not be applicable.
However, the victim can still claim for damages in such a case of partial restraint as held by the Madhya Pradesh High Court in the case of Chitranjan Singh v. State Of M.P. And Anr. (1995). It was ruled that even a partial deprivation of personal liberty is a violation of one’s fundamental rights and the victim is entitled to claim compensation.
There are main remedies for false imprisonment, which can be classified as follows:
Action for loss
Damages in false imprisonment are those that flow from detention. A person injured by conduct, either knowingly or negligently, is entitled to compensatory damages and has no duty to lessen the gravity of such damages. There is no legal rule for the assessment of damages and it is left entirely to the court. The basis of the damage includes injury and physical pain to the person, mental suffering and humiliation, loss of time earnings and interruptions in occupations, decrease in medical expenses, injury to reputation, etc.
The arresting officer is liable for the loss of time caused by the false arrest for the time that the officer produced the person before the judicial officer and is not liable thereafter. False arrest damages should only be measured up to the time of indictment. However, where a continuity exists between an unlawful arrest and subsequent discharge of the accused, as a continuing unlawful act, the defendant is liable for all consequences resulting from the false arrest.
In the case of Anowar Hussain v. Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee (1959), the Supreme Court of India held that to recover damages for false imprisonment, the plaintiff need only prove that he was falsely imprisoned by the defendant or his servants during the course of employment. If the plaintiff is successful in proving, the defendants should provide the lawful justification of their actions. Proving the wrong intention, malice or negligence is also not required for the plaintiff in false imprisonment.
Nominal and compensatory damages
The general rule in an individual personal tort action is that the plaintiff is entitled to recover an amount that would be just and equitable, justifying an award for exemplary damages in the absence of circumstances. Mere unlawful detention constitutes the basis for the recovery of at least nominal damages, but an award of nominal damages only may be insufficient and flawed where the facts have proved that the right to greater damages. It is now held that the person can now be imprisoned without knowing it. In such cases the plaintiff can receive only nominal damages. Mental suffering including fear, shame and hatred of arrogance and humiliation, which results in wrongful detention, is generally considered an injury that can be compensated for an action of false arrest or false imprisonment.
Punitive, exemplary and aggravated losses
If an imprisonment is recklessly affected, extortion, dishonour, libel and malicious manner, the jury may go beyond the compensation rule and cause exemplary and punitive damages to the defendant as punishment. Punitive damages are being awarded in cases where the conduct of defendant is grossly indifferent to the rights of others or knowingly or reasonably violates those rights, and such damages are awarded to a deterrent. . Exemplary damage may be provided in certain circumstances when power is misused by the state. The increased damage may be awarded in a reasonable case when imprisoning one in a nominal character is offensive or the plaintiff’s feelings are hurt. Courts have often held that malice in the action of false imprisonment or false arrest will result in an award for exemplary or punitive damages. Punitive or exemplary damages will not be allowed where false imprisonment was brought in utmost good faith, without malice in law and where there is no element of oppression.
This writ is considered an effective remedy for immediate release from wrongful detention, whether in jail or in private custody by English law. The Apex Court of India and the High Court of States issue this writ under Articles 32 and 226 respectively. It deals with cases of false arrest or prolonged detention by police officers. Subject to the rules laid down by the High Courts, a person may be imprisoned for or by any person on his behalf.. The right of habeas corpus is an effective means of immediate release from unlawful detention, whether in prison or private custody. Where an unlawful detention continues the plaintiff may seek this writ. This writ is also used in criminal cases of false imprisonment. The decision will be that either the prisoner will be released or if the detention is proved than he will be produced before the court for a trial.
The writ of habeas corpus can be filed in both the High Court by means of Article 226 and the Supreme Court as provided in Article 32 by the prisoner for immediate release in cases of false imprisonment. If the prisoner is not in a position to file a writ petition of habeas corpus, some other person may file it on his behalf. The writ of habeas corpus also offers compensation to the relatives of the victims in some cases. In the case of Malkiat Singh v. State of U.P. (1997), the son of the plaintiff was wrongly imprisoned and later killed by the police in an encounter. The Supreme Court of India, based on a writ of habeas corpus, awarded his family a monetary compensation of Rupees five lakhs.
A person who has been detained unlawfully may use self-help to flee with reasonable force to protect himself from unlawful arrest. The force used must be proportional to the conditions. This is a risky method because the power of arrest depends not only in the commission of the crime, but in the alternative and in a reasonable doubt. So, if an innocent person finds a reasonable basis for their suspicion, then an innocent person who forcibly resists may be liable for battery.
Monetary compensation for damages
India lacks a proper legal framework for providing compensation or monetary damages. The Report No. 277 of Law Commission of India in 2018 recommended the development of a legislative framework to provide compensation for victims of wrongful imprisonment after the Delhi High Court expressed great concern regarding the lack of legal framework in wrongful prosecution in the case of Babloo Chauhan @ Dabloo v. State Govt. Of Nct Of Delhi (2017).
However, an individual who has suffered false imprisonment, can seek monetary compensation either by filing a civil or criminal suit, depending on the situation. Section 19 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), 1908 provides that one can file a civil suit for compensation of damages. Section 35A of the CPC deals with compensatory costs. Under Section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Court can award compensation.
Bhim Singh vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir. In this case the petitioner, MLA of J&K was to participate in the Assembly meeting. His opponents in order to prevent him from attending the Assembly session got him arrested wrongfully with the help of some executives and police. The Magistrate also granted remand to police without compliance of the mandatory requirement of production of the accused in the Magistrate’s Court before reminding him to police custody. He was released after the Assembly session got over. The Supreme Court held the State liable for wrongful arrest and detention of the petitioner and ordered a compensation of Rs. 50,000 to be paid to the petitioner.
Rudal Shah vs. State of Bihar. In this case, the petitioner, an under-trial was wrongfully confined in jail for several years despite his acquittal by the Court. The High Court of Patna held that as soon as a person under trial is found not guilty by the court, he should be set free. Any detention after it shall be unlawful. The State had to pay a sum of Rs. 30,000 as compensation.
D.K.Basu vs. State of West Bengal., the petitioners came up with important issues concerning the police powers and if monetary compensation should be awarded for established violation of Fundamental Rights, as under Article 21 and 22 of the Constitution. The court decided that Custodial violence, including torture and death in the lock ups, strikes a blow at the Rule of Law, which demands that the powers of the executive should not only be arose from law but also that the same should be limited by law. To check the abuse of police power, transparency of action and accountability were the two safeguards laid down by the court. 11 directives has been issued by the court where it spelled out the rights of an arrestee or a detainee and the manner in which the arresting or detaining authority is expected to behave, including the written record of arrest, informing of arrestee’s family of his arrest, medical examination on request, among others.
In the case of Sebastian M. Hongray v. Union of India and Others (1984), two persons were unauthorisedly detained by an army officer and could not be produced in court even after filing a writ of habeas corpus. They were assumed to have met an ‘unnatural’ death in the custody of the army officer based on circumstantial and prima facie evidence. The Supreme Court of India stated that the Union of India “cannot disown” the responsibility for the act. The Supreme Court of India awarded exemplary damage “in the nature of compensation” to their widows to be paid by the state.
In the landmark case of Saheli, A Women’s Resources Centre v. Commissioner Of Police, Delhi Police Head-Quarters And Ors. (1989), a lady named Kamlesh Kumari moved into a rented house with her husband and three children. There was another tenant named Maya Devi in the house. The ownership of the house was transferred to a person named Manohar Lal. Meanwhile, Puran Chand and his two sons claimed to buy the house and asked the tenants to evict it. Kamlesh Kumari also obtained a stay order to prevent forceful eviction.
However, Kamlesh Kumari was summoned and was pressured to vacate the house multiple times by the SHO of Anand Parbat Police Station. On November 13, 1987, on returning after she went to consult her advocate, Kamlesh Kumari found her children were taken to lock up. After meeting the SHO, he informed the children that they would not be released until she vacated the room. They were freed with the intervention of her advocate.
On the next day, Kamlesh Kumari was severely assaulted and molested by Puran Chand’s sons and the SHO, Lal Singh in civilian clothes, and Sham Lal, Sub-Inspector. Her nine year old son tried to protect her, but the SHO forcibly threw him on the ground. Moreover, she was sent to Tihar jail, and after her release, she found her son in a serious condition. Later, the son died of his injuries. A medico-legal case was registered.
Thereafter, a PIL was filed by the NGO Saheli and the Supreme Court, besides finding the accused guilty of battery, assault, physical injuries, and death, also held that the respondent was guilty of false imprisonment.
The Hon’ble Court further ruled that the State is liable to compensate for the torts committed by its employees and hence ordered to pay an amount of Rs 75,000/- to Kamlesh Kumari for her son’s death.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on false imprisonment under the law of tort
How does the tort of false imprisonment take place?
The tort of false imprisonment takes place when the movement of an individual is totally restrained without any reasonable ground. However, if an individual is prevented from going in a particular direction, it is not false imprisonment. The complete deprivation of an individual’s liberty without any lawful justification or proper legal authority is called “false imprisonment.”
Is it necessary to restrain any person in prison, within the four walls of a room or any closed area for false imprisonment?
For false imprisonment, it is not necessary that the movement of an individual be restrained within the four walls of a building. It is the restraint preventing an individual from having the liberty to go beyond a specific area. The restraint may take place even in an open area if the individual’s movement is restricted.
What is unlawful detention?
False imprisonment is also termed “unlawful detention.”
Do all sorts of restraints fall under the category of false imprisonment?
If there are enough reasonable grounds or lawful justification to restrain a person while following the laws of the land, it is not considered as false imprisonment.
False imprisonment may be because of malicious intention of the defendant or by negligence but the sufferer is the plaintiff , hence while awarding the compensation one must keep in mind about the place of confinement, time of confinement and force used by the defendant. The above mentioned considerations will make sure that the aggrieved person gets fair justice.
False imprisonment also violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which includes right to life and personal liberty. Any person who is wrongfully imprisoned can take legal action against the wrongdoer for the violation of their fundamental right. Under Article 21 we have the fundamental right to move freely, if any person is restraining the fundamental right then he can be sued in a court of law.
- B.M. Gandhi, Law of Torts 165 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 3rd ed., 2006)
- R.K.Bangia Law of torts, Allahabad Law Agency, 21st edn., 2007 reprint 2009
- Tort Law Directions, Vera Bermingham and Carol Brennan, 4th edition, 2014
- Law of TORTS, R.Ramachadran (Advocate), 2nd edition, 2013
- Law of TORTS, Prof. S.P.Singh, 7th edition, 2015
- The Law of TORTS, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, revised by Justice GP Singh, 26th edition, 2013
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