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Wrongful restraint of a man's liberty: Meaning, Defense and Remedy

Wrongfully restraining a man’s liberty is actionable in the law of torts, under the heading Trespass to Person or more specifically, under the heading false imprisonment. Let us first take a look at the definition of false imprisonment.

According to Winfield, false imprisonment can be defined as consisting in imprisonment of a total restraint for some period, however short upon the liberty of aaWrongfully restraining a man's liberty is actionable in the law of torts, under the heading Trespass to Person or more specifically, under the heading false imprisonment. Let us first take a look at the definition of false imprisonment.

According to Winfield, false imprisonment can be defined as consisting in imprisonment of a total restraint for some period, however short upon the liberty of another without sufficient justification.

The word 'false' here means 'erroneous' or 'wrong'. It is a tort of strict liability, and the plaintiff has not to prove fault on the part of the defendant. [i]

The plaintiff has to prove the following to invoke liability under the wrongful act of false imprisonment:

  1. The plaintiff has to prove that he was imprisoned in any form or the other. The basic essential that constitutes the wrongful act of false imprisonment is that the victim must have been imprisoned. Without a person being imprisoned, he/ she cannot file a case for false imprisonment. This can either be actual i.e., laying bare hands upon that person or constructive i.e., by a mere show of authority. [ii]
     
  2. Having proved imprisonment, the plaintiff now has to prove that the imprisonment was unlawful, i.e., it wasn't backed by any legal sanction. If any imprisonment (either physical or constructive) is backed by legal sanction, then it does not fall under the ambit of this tort. [iii]
     
  3. The imprisonment must be total and not partial in the sense that the plaintiffs right to move about freely i.e., his right to liberty is constrained in all the four directions and not in any particular direction. Only then shall it be considered as a wrongful act of false imprisonment.
     
  4. For the case of false imprisonment, the knowledge of the plaintiff that he is being subject to that tort is not necessary. In the case of Merring v Graham White Aviation Co Ltd [iv], Lord Atkin said that a person could be imprisoned while he was asleep or in a state of drunkenness.
     
  5. This act can be caused by either the defendant himself or through any other person. A person may be liable for false imprisonment not only when he directly arrests or detains the plaintiff, but also when he was "active in promoting or causing" the arrest or detention [v].
     
  6. Lastly, the plaintiff has to prove that the act of false imprisonment to which he was subjected had no legal backing. If it was under the due course of law then this tort won't be applicable.
Now we shall be taking a look at some of the established Jurisprudence to better understand the concept of False Imprisonment.

Case: Garikipati Ramayya v Araza Biksham [vi]
In this case, the defendant who was the sarpanch (headman) of a village made a false report to the police that the plaintiff (who was from the opposition party) had set fire to his property. On the basis of this report, the police arrested the plaintiff, but the charges came out to be false. The defendant was held liable for the tort of false imprisonment.

Case: Rudul Sah v State of Bihar [vii]
In this case, plaintiff had got his acquittal orders long time back. Still the jail authorities did not release him for a period of 14 years. The plaintiff filed a writ petition under Article 32 in the Supreme Court of India stating that he had been wrongfully imprisoned. The petition was allowed, and the State was held liable.

Case: Kundan Lal v Dr. Des Raj L. Multani Ram [viii]
In this case, the defendant had been arrested by the police but was let out on a bail bond which were backed by two sureties. On an application made by the sureties, the bail bond was cancelled and the plaintiff who happened to be the Superintendent of Police ordered for the re-arrest of the defendant. The court held, that under section 502 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police were not authorized to cancel the bail bond which could only be done by a magistrate. Held liable for false imprisonment.

Defenses for False Imprisonment:

  1. An action of taking a person under imprisonment won't be a tort of false imprisonment if it was under judicial authority or public authority i.e., it was backed by a judicial order. For example, if the courts have ordered the compulsory presentation of someone before it then that person cannot claim false imprisonment [ix]
     
  2. When a police officer arrests a person erroneously named in a warrant, he is not liable for false imprisonment as his only duty is to execute the warrant as it is on its face [x].
     
  3. A person while exercising reasonable self-defense, when wrongfully imprisoning another person would not be held liable for this tort. The main condition in this regard is that the use of force by the plaintiff must be reasonable.
     
  4. Parental and Quasi-parental authority is also a defense for this tort. If a parent in the exercise of their control and supervision restrains the liberty of their child or pupil to a certain extent, then it won't be held to be false imprisonment. Similarly, if a teacher at school restrains a child within the school hours for his own benefit, then it won't be false imprisonment.
     
  5. Measures of crowd control adopted by the police resulting in the detention of a crowd, which also included some innocent people, to prevent breach of peace, and risk of injury to persons or property would not lead to false imprisonment so long as they were done in good faith [xi].
     
  6. Consent of the opposite party as in Volenti Nonfit Injuria would also be an effective defense in this case. If the plaintiff gives his own consent freely without any external influence on the curtailment of his own liberty, then the defendant won't be held liable for false imprisonment[xii].

Remedies available to the plaintiff in case of false imprisonment:

  1. Self-Help:
    The person who has been held captive can make use of reasonable force to free himself/herself from that captivity. The force to be used however should be reasonable. It's a kind of extra judicial remedy which is available to the person without approaching the court of law
     
  2. Writ of Habeas Corpus:
    The plaintiff can seek the remedy of writ of Habeas Corpus under article 226 in the High Court and under article 32 in the Supreme Court of India. If the court issues the writ, then the person has to be presented before the court to determine the legality of his imprisonment [xiii].
     
  3. Action for damages:
    The person who has been the victim of false imprisonment can at all times file a case for recovery of damages. The thing to note here is that these damages should only be on account of the loss suffered during the period of confinement and not after that. In rare cases, even exemplary damages can be awarded to the plaintiff [xiv].
     
End-Notes:
  1. R. v Governor of Brockhill Prison (no 2), (2000) 4 All ER 15 pp 18,19,20 (HL
  2. Pocock v Moore (1825) R & M 321.
  3. Bird v Jones, (1845) 7 QB 742, 744
  4. (1919) 122 LT 44.
  5. Aitken vs Bedwell, (1827) Mood & M 68
  6. AIR 1979 AP 31
  7. 1983 AIR 1086
  8. AIR 1955 P H 51
  9. Biharilal Bhawasinka v Jagannath Prasad Kajriwal, AIR 1959 Pat 490.
  10. McGrath v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (2001) 4 All ER 334
  11. Austin v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (2009) 3 ALL ER 458 (H.L.).
  12. Herd v Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co. (1915) AC 67
  13. Ramabai Balkrishna Nene vs The Secretary Urban Development AIR 1977 Bom 367
  14. Sebastian M Hongary v Union of India 1984 SCR (3) 544

Written By: Mr. Saikat Mukherjee
, A 3rd year BA LLB student at Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur.
Email: [email protected] nother without sufficient justification.

The word ‘false’ here means ‘erroneous’ or ‘wrong’. It is a tort of strict liability, and the plaintiff has not to prove fault on the part of the defendant. [i]  

The plaintiff has to prove the following to invoke liability under the wrongful act of false imprisonment.

1-     The plaintiff has to prove that he was imprisoned in any form or the other. The basic essential that constitutes the wrongful act of false imprisonment is that the victim must have been imprisoned. Without a person being imprisoned, he/ she cannot file a case for false imprisonment. This can either be actual i.e., laying bare hands upon that person or constructive i.e., by a mere show of authority.[ii]

2-     Having proved imprisonment, the plaintiff now has to prove that the imprisonment was unlawful, i.e., it wasn’t backed by any legal sanction. If any imprisonment (either physical or constructive) is backed by legal sanction, then it does not fall under the ambit of this tort. [iii]

3-     The imprisonment must be total and not partial in the sense that the plaintiffs right to move about freely i.e., his right to liberty is constrained in all the four directions and not in any particular direction. Only then shall it be considered as a wrongful act of false imprisonment.

4-     For the case of false imprisonment, the knowledge of the plaintiff that he is being subject to that tort is not necessary. In the case of Merring v Graham White Aviation Co Ltd [iv], Lord Atkin said that a person could be imprisoned while he was asleep or in a state of drunkenness.

5-     This act can be caused by either the defendant himself or through any other person. A person may be liable for false imprisonment not only when he directly arrests or detains the plaintiff, but also when he was “active in promoting or causing” the arrest or detention[v].

6-     Lastly, the plaintiff has to prove that the act of false imprisonment to which he was subjected had no legal backing. If it was under the due course of law then this tort won’t be applicable.

Now we shall be taking a look at some of the established Jurisprudence to better understand the concept of False Imprisonment.

 

Case- Garikipati Ramayya v Araza Biksham[vi]

 

In this case, the defendant who was the sarpanch (headman) of a village made a false report to the police that the plaintiff (who was from the opposition party) had set fire to his property. On the basis of this report, the police arrested the plaintiff, but the charges came out to be false. The defendant was held liable for the tort of false imprisonment.

 

 

 Case- Rudul Sah v State of Bihar[vii]

 

 In this case, plaintiff had got his acquittal orders long time back. Still the jail authorities       did not release him for a period of 14 years. The plaintiff filed a writ petition under Article 32 in the Supreme Court of India stating that he had been wrongfully imprisoned. The petition was allowed, and the State was held liable.

 

 

Case- Kundan Lal v Dr. Des Raj L. Multani Ram[viii]

 

In this case, the defendant had been arrested by the police but was let out on a bail bond which were backed by two sureties. On an application made by the sureties, the bail bond was cancelled and the plaintiff who happened to be the Superintendent of Police ordered for the re-arrest of the defendant. The court held, that under section 502 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police were not authorized to cancel the bail bond which could only be done by a magistrate. Held liable for false imprisonment.

 

    Defenses for False Imprisonment.

 

1-     An action of taking a person under imprisonment won’t be a tort of false imprisonment if it was under judicial authority or public authority i.e., it was backed by a judicial order. For example, if the courts have ordered the compulsory presentation of someone before it then that person cannot claim false imprisonment[ix]

2-     When a police officer arrests a person erroneously named in a warrant, he is not liable for false imprisonment as his only duty is to execute the warrant as it is on its face[x].

3-     A person while exercising reasonable self-defense, when wrongfully imprisoning another person would not be held liable for this tort. The main condition in this regard is that the use of force by the plaintiff must be reasonable.

4-     Parental and Quasi-parental authority is also a defense for this tort. If a parent in the exercise of their control and supervision restrains the liberty of their child or pupil to a certain extent, then it won’t be held to be false imprisonment. Similarly, if a teacher at school restrains a child within the school hours for his own benefit, then it won’t be false imprisonment.

5-      Measures of crowd control adopted by the police resulting in the detention of a crowd, which also included some innocent people, to prevent breach of peace, and risk of injury to persons or property would not lead to false imprisonment so long as they were done in good faith[xi].

6-     Consent of the opposite party as in volenti nonfit injuria would also be an effective defense in this case. If the plaintiff gives his own consent freely without any external influence on the curtailment of his own liberty, then the defendant won’t be held liable for false imprisonment[xii].

 

 

Remedies available to the plaintiff in case of false imprisonment.

 

1-     Self-Help: - The person who has been held captive can make use of reasonable force to free himself/herself from that captivity. The force to be used however should be reasonable. It’s a kind of extra judicial remedy which is available to the person without approaching the court of law.

 

2-     Writ of Habeas Corpus- The plaintiff can seek the remedy of writ of Habeas Corpus under article 226 in the High Court and under article 32 in the Supreme Court of India. If the court issues the writ, then the person has to be presented before the court to determine the legality of his imprisonment[xiii].

 

 

3-     Action for damages- The person who has been the victim of false imprisonment can at all times file a case for recovery of damages. The thing to note here is that these damages should only be on account of the loss suffered during the period of confinement and not after that. In rare cases, even exemplary damages can be awarded to the plaintiff[xiv].


End-notes 


[i] R. v Governor of Brockhill Prison (no 2), (2000) 4 All ER 15 pp 18,19,20 (HL)

[ii] Pocock v Moore (1825) R & M 321.

[iii] Bird v Jones, (1845) 7 QB 742, 744

[iv] (1919) 122 LT 44.

[v] Aitken vs Bedwell, (1827) Mood & M 68

[vi] AIR 1979 AP 31

[vii] 1983 AIR 1086

[viii] AIR 1955 P H 51

[ix] Biharilal Bhawasinka v Jagannath Prasad Kajriwal, AIR 1959 Pat 490.

[x] McGrath v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (2001) 4 All ER 334

[xi] Austin v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (2009) 3 ALL ER 458 (H.L.).

[xii] Herd v Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co. (1915) AC 67

[xiii] Ramabai Balkrishna Nene vs The Secretary Urban Development AIR 1977 Bom 367

[xiv] Sebastian M Hongary v Union of India 1984 SCR (3) 544

 

Written ByMr. Saikat Mukherjee, a 3rd year BA LLB student at Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur.

Email[email protected]

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