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Malicious Prosecution under Law of Tort

Written by: Prateek Shanker Srivastava - Student, IInd Year, Dr. RML National law University, Lucknow, U.P.
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Malicious prosecution is the malicious institution of unsuccessful criminal or bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings against another without reasonable or probable cause. This tort balances competing principles, namely freedom that every person should have in bringing criminals to justice and the need for restraining false accusations against innocent persons. Malicious prosecution is an abuse of the process of the court by wrongfully setting the law in motion on a criminal charge. The foundation lies in the triangular abuse of the court process of the court by wrongfully setting the law in motion and it is designed to encourage the perversion of the machinery of justice for a proper cause the tort of malicious position provides redress for those who are prosecuted without cause and with malice. In order to succeed the plaintiff must prove that there was a prosecution without reasonable and just cause, initiated by malice and the case was resolved in the plaintiff’s favor. It is necessary to prove that damage was suffered as a result of the prosecution.

In an action of malicious prosecution the plaintiff must prove:
1) That he was prosecuted by the defendant.
2) That the proceeding complained was terminated in favour of the present plaintiff
3) That the prosecution was instituted against without any just or reasonable cause.
4) That the prosecution was instituted with a malicious intention, that is, not with the mere intention of getting the law into effect, but with an intention, which was wrongful in fact.
5) That he suffered damage to his reputation or to the safety of person, or to security of his property.

When does Prosecution commence?

The Prosecution is not deemed to have commenced before a person is summoned to answer a complaint. In Khagendra Nath v. Jacob Chandra[1] there was mere lodging of ejahar alleging that the plaintiff wrongfully took away the bullock cart belonging to the defendant and requested that something shoud be done. The plaintiff was neither arrested nor prosecuted. It was held that merely bringing the matter before the executive athourity did not amount to prosecution and therefore the action for malicious prosecution could not be maintained. There is no commencement of the prosecution when a magistrate issues only a notice and not summons to the accused on receiving a complaint of defamation and subsequently dismissed it after hearing both the parties.

Elements of malicious prosecution

1. Institution or continuation of Legal proceedings

There must have been a prosecution initiated by the defendant. The word ‘prosecution’ means a proceeding in a court of law charging a person with a crime. To prosecute is to set the law in motion and the law is set in motion only by an appeal to some person clothed. The person to be sued is the person who was ‘actively instrumental in putting the law in force. There was a conflict on the question whether there is prosecution of a person before process is issued calling upon him to defend himself. One view was that a prosecution began only when process was issued and there could be no action when a magistrate dismissed a complaint under section 203 of the code of criminal procedure. The other view was that a prosecution commenced as soon as a charge was made before the court and before process was issued to the accused.

The proper test was indicated by the privy council in the Mohammad Amin v. Jogendra Kumar Bannerjee[2].The defendant had filed a complaint before the magistrate charging the plaintiff with cheating. The magistrate thereupon examined the complainant an oath and made an inquiry under s 202 of the code of criminal procedure. Notice of the inquiry had been issued to the plaintiff who attended it with his counsel and incurred costs doing so. The magistrate finally dismissed the complaint under section 203 of the code. In these circumstances the Privy Council held that there was a prosecution .The test is not whether the criminal proceedings have reached a stage at which they may be described as a prosecution, the test is whether such proceedings have reached a stage at which damage to the plaintiff results. A mere presentation of complaint to a magistrate who dismissed it on the ground that is disclosed no offence may not be sufficient ground for presuming that damage was a necessary consequence. It will be for the plaintiff to prove that damage actually resulted.

In the Gaya Prasad v Bhagat Singh[3] the privy council pointed out that the conduct of the complainant before and after the complaint has to be seen to decide whether he was the real prosecutor or not. If the complainant knowing that the charge is false tries to mislead the police by procuring false evidence for the conviction of the accused, he would be considered to be the prosecutor.

2. Termination of the prosecution in the plaintiff’s favour

The plaintiff must prove that the prosecution ended in his favour. He has no right to sue before it is terminated and while it is pending. The termination may be by an acquittal on the merits and a finding of his innocence or by a dismissal of the complaint for technical defects or for non-prosecution. If however his is convicted he has no right to sue and will not be allowed to show that he was innocent and wrongly convicted. His only remedy in that case is to appeal against the conviction. If the appeal results in his favour then he can sue for malicious prosecution. It is unnecessary for the plaintiff to prove his innocence as a separate issue.

3. Absence of reasonable and probable cause

 ‘Reasonable and probable cause’ is an honest belief in the guilt of the accused based on a full conviction founded upon reasonable grounds, of the existence of a circumstances, which assuming them to be true, would reasonably lead any ordinary prudent man and cautious man placed in the position of the accuser to the conclusion that the person charged was probably guilty of the crime imputed. As laid down in Hicks v. Faulkner [4] there must be:
i. an honest belief of the accuser in the guilt of the accused

ii. such belief must be based on an honest conviction of the existence of circumstances which led the accuser

iii. such secondly mentioned belief as to the existence of the circumstances must be based upon reasonable grounds that is such grounds , as would lead any fairly cautious man in the defendant’s situation to believe so

iv. The circumstances so believed and relied on by the accuser must be such as amount to a reasonable ground for belief in the guilt of the accused. It is the responsibility of the plaintiff to show that there was no reasonable and probable cause for the prosecution of the case. If the defendant can be shown to have initiated the prosecution without the himself holding an honest belief in the truth of the charge, it cannot be said that he acted upon reasonable and probable cause. The fact that the plaintiff has been acquitted is not prima facie evidence that the charge was unreasonable and false. Lack of reasonable and probable cause is to be understood objectively, it does not connote the subjective attitude of the accuser. The fact that the accuser himself thinks that it is reasonable to prosecute does not per se lead to the conclusion that he had a reasonable and probable cause.

4. Malice

Malice for the purposes of malicious prosecution means having any other motive apart from that of bringing an offender to justice. Spite and ill-will are sufficient but not necessary conditions of malice. Malice means the presence of some other and improper motive that is to say the legal process in question for some other than its legally appointed and appropriate purpose. Anger and revenge may be proper motives if channeled into the criminal justice system. The lack of objective and reasonable cause is not an evidence of malice but lack of honest belief is an evidence of malice. In Allen v. Flood a general rule was propounded that an act lawful in itself does not merely become unlawful because of the bad motives of the actor and some of their lordships in the House of Lords suggested that malicious prosecution was not really an exeption to this rule. The setteled rule is that malice is the gist of the action for malicious prosecution and must be proved by the plaintiff in the first instance. It is for the plaintiff to prove that there was an existence of malice i.e the Burden of Proof lies upon the plaintiff.

Evidence of Malice

Malice may be proved by previously staines relations, unreasonable or improper conduct like advertising of the charge or getting up false evidence. Though mere carelessness is not per se proof of malice unreasonable conduct like haste, recklessness or failure to prove enquiries would be some evidence. When there is absence of some reasonable cause qwing to defendant’s want of belief in the truth of his charge is the conclusive evidence of malice. However the converse proposition is not true because a person may be inspired by malice and also has a reasonable belief in the truth of his case. There may be malice either in commencing a prosecution or continuing one, honestly began. The mere fact that criminal prosecution resulted in acquittal or discharge of the accused will not establish that the defendant had acted with malice.

5. Damages
It has to be proved that the plaintiff has suffered damages as a result of the prosecution complaint of. Even though the proceedings terminate in favour of the plaintiff, he may suffer damage as a result of the prosecution. The damages may not necessarily be pecuniary. Acc to HOLT C.J. ‘ s classic analysis in Savile v. Robert [5]there could be three sort of damages any one of which could be sufficient to support any action of malicious prosecution.
1) The damage to a man’s fame as where the matter whereof he is accused is scaldalous
2) The damage done to a person as where man is put to a danger of losing his life , limb or liberty
3) The damage to a man’s property as where is forced to expend money in necessary charges , to acquit himself of the crime of which he is accused.

The damage must also be the reasonable and propable results of malicious prosecution and not too remote. In assessing damage the court to some extent would have to consider:
1) The nature of the offence the plaintiff was charged of
2) The inconvenience to which the plaintiff was charged to
3) Monetary loss and
4) The status and prosecution of the person prosecuted

Malicious Civil Proceeding

An action will not lie for maliciously and without reasonable and propable cause instituting suit the reason stated to be is that “ such a case dose not necessarily and naturally involve damage to the party sued. The civil action which is false will be dismissed at the hearing. The defendant’s reputation will be cleared against all imputations made against him and he will be awarded costs against the opponent. The law dose not award damage for mental anxiety, or extra costs incurred beyond those imposed on unsuccessful parties.

Cases of Malicious Prosecution

In the Kamta Prasad v National Buildings Constructions Corporation Pvt Ltd.[6] The officer of the respondent corporatin found certain articles missing while preparing inventory and checking up with the stock register. The plaintiff was prosecuted under sec. 403 of the I.P.C. but was given the benefit of doubt and hence acquitted. The plaintiff brought an action for malicious prosecution. The plaintiff could not prove that he had been harassed by the officers. There was held to be reasonable and propable case for prosecution of the plaintiff and the4 fact that plaintiff was not harassed indicated that there was no malice and hence the charge was not held.

In Girija Prasad v Uma Shankar Pathak[7] the plaintiff was a practicing advocate at Panna in M.P. he was also a Jan Sangh leader and had started an agitation on the question of food scarcity in the city and one Jan Sangh worker had gone to a hunger strike. On Jan 2 1965 Girija Singh a sub inspector was deputed outside the collectorate to control the crowd that had collected there to support the agitation. Then there were some bullet shots made from the revolver of the sub inspector. He stated that while he was grappling with some person who was assaulting him the revolver got fired mistakingly. On that date Girija Singh had lodged an FIR stating that he was assaulted by some person.his watch snatched and also the plaintiff Uma Shankar pathak was present at the scene and was instigating the crowd against him . the case was investigated and the plaintiff was arrested on 15th jan and released on bail on 18th jan. he was finally acquitted on june 30th 1965 . the plaintiff then sued 4 persons for malicious prosecution , the sub inspector Girija Prasad who lodged the F.I.R. , the S.H.O. of that area who entertained the report and two other persons involved with the case.

It was found by the M.P. High court that the report prepared by Girija Prasad was false and at that relevant time the plaintiff was not present there but was appearing infront of a civil judge Justice Verma. Eventually Girija Prasad was held for malicious prosecution and others acquitted of the charge and not held liable for malicious prosecution.

Recent Case
Vishweshwar Shankarrao Deshmukh and Anr v. Narayan Vithoba Patil[8]
Facts of the case
The plaintiff was the sarpanch of the village Shirputi in the year 1980 and the defendant no. 1 was in the service as a Gram sewak under the Zila Parishad and the defendant no.2 was a teacher in a school run by the Zila Parishad. The plaintiff contended that he made several reports against the defendants for their misconduct. The report was made against defendant no.1 for his misbehavior, defalcation and forgery of accounts and also against defendant no.2 for his absence from duties and other irregularities. It is contended that both the defendants then hatched a conspiracy to involve the plaintiff in a criminal conspiracy and such that the defendant no.1 had lodged an F.I.R. with the police that was assaulted by the plaintiff while he was discharging his duties. On the basis of the F.I.R and investigation done by the police, criminal proceedings were launched against the plaintiff.. The plaintiff was acquitted of the charges against him. It is contended that on the basis of the F.I.R. lodged by the defendant no.1 , plaintiff was arrested bt the police and the criminal proceeding against him was with malicious intention on the part of the defendants. The prosecution was launched without any reasonable cause and due to the false prosecution, there was a loss to his prestige and reputation and his status was lowered down in the society being a sarpanch and a politician.

Decision
The court decided that the plaintiff was maliciously prosecuted by the defendants without any reasonable and propable cause , and therefore they are liable to pay damages worth Rs 12,500.00 to the plaintiff.

Conclusion
Malicious prosecution is an abuse of the process of the court by wrongfully setting the law in motion on a criminal charge. In order to succeed the plaintiff must prove that there was a prosecution without any just and reasonable cause, initiated by malice and the case was decided in the plaintiff’s favour. It is necessary to prove that damages were incurred by the plaintiff as a result of the prosecution. The burden of proof rests on him. He has to prove the existence of malice.
Malice may be proved by previously stained relations, unreasonable and improper conduct like advertising the charge or getting up false evidence.

Though mere carelessness is not the per se proof of malice, unreasonable conduct like haste, recklessness or failure to make enquiries would be some evidence. Malicious prosecution is the malicious institution of unsuccessful criminal or bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings against another without reasonable or probable cause. This tort balances competing principles, namely freedom that every person should have in bringing criminals to justice and the need for restraining false accusations against innocent persons. Malicious prosecution is an abuse of the process of the court by wrongfully setting the law in motion on a criminal charge. It is an effort to disturb the proper functioning of the judicial machinery.

Endnotes
[1] A.I.R. 1977 N.O.C. 207(Gau)
[2] 1948)51CWN 723(PC)
[3] I.L.R(1908) 30 All.525(P.C.)
[4] (1878)8 QBD 167 (171)
[5] 1899) 1 Raym 374
[6] A.I.R. 1992 Delhi 275
[7] A.I.R 1973 M.P. 79
[8] 2005(2)BomCR491

The author can be reached at: prateek.aviator@legalserviceindia.com / Print This Article

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