Defences of false imprisonment
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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.

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:

  1. Probable cause of imprisonment.
  2. Plaintiff’s knowledge for imprisonment.
  3. 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.

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:

Wilful detention

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.
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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:

Valid Arrest 

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.

Probable Cause

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.


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.

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.

Habeas corpus

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.

Self help

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.

Landmark cases

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.


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.

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