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Tort of false imprisonment

False imprisonment is a trespass committed by one man against the person of another, by unlawfully arresting him, and detaining him without any legal authority. It consists in the imposition of a total restraint for some period, however short, upon the liberty of another, without sufficient legal authority. A partial obstruction of his will, as the prevention of his going in one direction or in all directions but one, does not constitute an imprisonment.1) The restraint may be either physical or by mere show of authority. Actual contact is not necessary. Thus, to constitute this wrong two things are necessary:

  1. the detention of the person either
    1. actual, e.g., laying hands upon a person ; or
    2. constructive, e.g., by an officer telling anyone that he is wanted and making him accompany:
  2. the unlawfulness of such detention.

Every confinement of the person is an imprisonment whether it be in a common prison or a private house, or in the stocks, or by forcibly detaining anyone in the public streets. A prison may have its boundary large or narrow, invisible or tangible, actual or real, or indeed in conception only; it may be in itself moveable or fixed; but a boundary it must have, and from the boundary that party imprisoned must be prevented from escaping; he must be prevented from leaving the place within the limits of which the party imprisoned could be confined.2) A man is not imprisoned who has an escape open to him. False imprisonment assumes an entire restriction of free motion; and hence it involves a notion of boundary or circumscribing limits; not that these need necessarily be physically defined if they are actually constituted by the effectual control of a power and will exterior to one's own. The retaining of a person in a particular place, or the compelling him to go in a particular direction by force of an exterior will overpowering or suppressing in any way his own voluntary action, is an imprisonment on the part of the person exercising that exterior will.3)

The plaintiff need only prove the detention or imprisonment.

Action for a false imprisonment lies against the plaintiff's attorney, who sues out an illegal and void ca. sa. against the defendant, and delivers it himself to the officer, who by his order arrests the defendant thereon.4) Where a party lays a complaint before a Magistrate on a subject matter over which he has a general jurisdiction, and the Magistrate grants a warrant upon which the party charged is arrested, the party laying a complaint is not liable as a trespasser, although the particular case be one in which the Magistrate had no authority to act. But, where the complainant having accompanied the constable charged with the execution of the warrant, pointed out to him the person to be arrested, it was held that this was evidence of a participation in the arrest.5) Suspicion of a party having committed a misdemeanour on a former occasion, is no justification for giving him in charge to a constable without a Justice's warrant; and there is no distinction in this respect between one kind of misdemeanour and another, as breach of the peace and fraud.6)

Where a bailiff tells a person that he has a writ against him and there upon such person peaceably accompanies him, that constitutes an imprisonment.7) Where a jailor acts upon a writ or order of a competent Court, which is prima facie valid, he is not liable if it subsequently turns out that the order was wrong.8) But where the order shows on the face of it that the prisoner was committed under a statute which expressly casts on the jailor the duty of releasing the prisoner after a specified time unless the party n whose motion the prisoner was committed brings the prisoner to the bar of the Court, then the jailor will be liable unless he so releases the prisoner.9) Where two policemen hindered defendant from going on a portion of a public footway on a bridge which was appropriated by seats to view a regatta, it was held that there was no imprisonment committed by the policemen.10) A passenger on the London & S. W. Ry. on arrival at Totton Station, refused to give up his ticket, on the ground that he had been misinformed by a porter at Waterloo as to the destination of the train, and required his ticket in order that he might make a claim against the company. The local stationmaster thereupon refused to allow him to leave, and although he tendered his name and address, detained him for some hours. He subsequently sued the company and the station-master to recover damages for alleged false imprisonment. The jury gave him the verdict and assessed the damages at £100, whilst the Judge intimated that the public were indebted to anyone who brought a case of this kind forward because it was occasionally necessary to show the officers of the companies that they were not entitled to take the law into their own hands.

Indian cases: Where a wrong person is arrested and imprisoned under a decree to which he was no party, the person setting the Court in motion is not liable for such arrest and imprisonment if he did not obtain the process fraudulently or improperly.11) Where the defendant, a commanding officer of a Regiment, had unlawfully caused the plaintiff, a contractor, to be arrested and kept in confinement on the reasonable suspicion of fraud entertained against him, believing himself to be lawfully in possession of the authority to do so and did not act in malice or conscious violation of the law, nor for the furtherance of any unlawful purpose, but failed to establish the fraud imputed. Held, that the plaintiff under the circumstances was entitled to substantial damages.12) A zemindar who discharged some of his officers and placed them under personal restraint was held liable to pay compensation in damages for the wrong inflicted.13) Where the plaintiff's imprisonment took place under a warrant of the Bombay Small Cause Court issued in a regular manner, and such Court being of competent jurisdiction, the plaintiff was held to have no cause of action against the bailiff who arrested him, as there was no bad faith, fault, or irregularity, on the part of the bailiff so as to make him responsible for the wrongful arrest.14) Where a false charge led to a party being prevented going to his house until he had furnished bail, he was held to have suffered inconvenience and loss of reputation, for which an award of Rs. 20 as damages was not unreasonable.15)

Arrest and imprisonment by private persons and public officers

False imprisonment may also arise from the arrest or detention of a person by:

  1. a private person, or,
  2. an officer without warrant, or by an illegal warrant, or by a legal warrant executed at an unlawful time.

Where an arrest can only lawfully be made by a warrant the person arresting must have it with him at the time, ready to be produced if demanded.16) But there are a few exceptions to these principles.

A private person may without warrant arrest:

  1. A person whom he sees committing, or about to commit, a breach of the public peace, but not if the affray be over and not likely to recur.17)
  2. A dangerous lunatic, who seems disposed to do mischief to himself or to any other person.
  3. A person for whom he has become bail, in order to give him up in his discharge
  4. In certain cases, depending upon relationships. A parent may lock up his child, a master his apprentice, and a ship-master his crew and passengers.
  5. Under the provisions of section 43 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Plaintiff entered defendant's shop to purchase an article in the shop, when a dispute arose between the plaintiff and defendant's shop man, and the plaintiff refusing on request to go out of the shop, the shop man endeavoured to turn him out, and an affray ensued between them. The defendant came into the shop during the affray, and requested the plaintiff to leave the shop quietly; but on his refusing to do so, the defendant gave him in charge to a, policeman, who took him to a station-house. Held, that the defendant was justified, under the circumstances, in giving the plaintiff in charge to a policeman, for the purpose of preventing a renewal of the affray.18) In an action for false imprisonment, the defendant justified on the ground that the plaintiff had been his lodger, and after she had left her apartments, he discovered that some feathers were missing from a bed which he had occupied, and he, suspecting her to be the person who had stolen them, caused her to be apprehended, etc. Held, that as the defendant had taken the law into his own hands it was incumbent on him to make out not only that a felony had been committed, but that the circumstances of the case were such that any reasonable person would fairly have suspected the plaintiff of being the person who had committed it.19)

A public officer may arrest without warrant under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

A constable is not justified in arresting a supposed offender for felony, without warrant, at the instigation of a third party, unless there exists a reasonable charge and suspicion.20)


The expenses incurred to regain freedom from false imprisonment may be calculated in awarding damages. The remarks made under assault equally apply here.

When a judicial officer is liable for a false imprisonment, he is liable for all the usual and ordinary injurious consequences thereof, such as hand-cuffing, cutting off the hair, payment of penalties, fees, and all such expenses as are reasonably necessary to enable the plaintiff to procure his liberty; but he is not liable for any unnecessary or excessive violence on the part of the officers executing the warrant.21)

1) , 2) , 10)
Bird v. Jones
Paran kusam v. Stuart
Barker v. Braham and Norwood
West v. Smallwood
Fox v. Gaunt
Grainger v. Hill
Greaves v. Keene
Moore v. Rose
Bheema v. Donti
Patton v. Huree Ram
Rajah Pedda Venkatapa v. Aroovala
Fisher v. Pearse
Madhub Chunder Sircar v. Banee Madhub
Gilliard v. Loxton
17) , 18)
Timothy v. Simpson
Allen v. Wright
Hogg v. Ward
Mason v. Barker

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