• Lex Specialis

False Imprisonment

- Niyati Nagar


False imprisonment is a total restraint of liberty of a person, for however short a time, without lawful excuse. Liberty which is the quintessential element for life forms a cornerstone for the dignity of human life which is well protected under Art 21 of the Constitution of India. The word ‘false’ 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. R v. Governor of Brockhill Prison.


To constitute this wrong, two things are necessary- the total restraint of the liberty of a person and the detention must be unlawful. The detention of the person may be either actual, that is physical e.g. laying hands upon a person or constructive that is by mere show of authority. The period for which detention continues is immaterial, but it must not be lawful. If one compels a person against his will to stay at a particular place, he imprisons that other just as much as if he locked up in a room, compelling the man to move in a particular direction against his will may amount to imprisonment; but if one man merely obstructs the passage of another in a particular direction, whether by the threat of personal violence or otherwise, leaving him at liberty to stay where he is or to go in any other direction as pleases, he cannot be said thereby to imprison him. Imprisonment is a total restraint of the liberty of the person, however a short span of time and not a partial construction of his will. Bird v. Jones.


Under section 340 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 false imprisonment is known as a crime of wrongful confinement. The essential ingredients of the offense of wrongful confinement are the wrongful restraining of the complainant. And such restraint needs to be of such a nature that it prevents the complainant from proceeding beyond certain circumscribing limits beyond which he or she has no right to proceed.


Under the cases of wrongful confinement under section 340 of the IPC, there is no requirement of actual physical restraint. The evidence suggesting an apprehension created in the mind of the complainant that she is not free to depart is sufficient to hold the accused guilty under section 340, IPC. Such an impression or apprehension has to be reasonable. State v. Balakrishnan, proves the factual interpretation of section 340 wherein a police officer was held guilty by the court for wrongful confinement when he brought the complainant to the police station and afterward claimed that the complainant was free to go at any time. The court while holding the accused guilty observed that in a police station the police officers’ authority prevails and a citizen, even when given the choice to leave, is not in a position to take the decision being in a fearless state. There is a reasonable apprehension of the use of force in there.


Essential Elements


The necessary constituents of false imprisonment include total restraint of the liberty of the person and unlawful detention. As discussed above the detention can be actual or physical or it can be constructive e.g., a police officer in Balakrishnan’s case restrained the complainant by means of authority.


The period of detention is immaterial, but such a period must always be lawful. The whole notion of imprisoning is not just a loss of power i.e freedom but it comprises the feeling that the person is being restrained within some limits defined by a will or power not her own. Bird v. Jones. In order to prove unlawful detention the complainant has to prove that the measure taken by the authority or person was not undertaken in good faith, dis-proportionate , and not taken in due necessity. Austin v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner It is not necessary that a man’s person should be touched. Placing a party under the restraint of an officer, who holds a writ for her arrest, is imprisonment, without proceeding to actual contact. Grainger v. Hill. A person can be imprisoned while he is asleep, while he is in a state of drunkenness, while he is unconscious, and while he is lunatic. Merring v. Graham White Aviation Co. Ltd.


Remedies


False imprisonment is actionable without proof of any special damage and it is not necessary for the complainant to prove that she knew about the detention or that she suffered certain harm or injury out of it. Murray v. Minister. Remedies available with the detainee are as follows:

  1. Damages: the damages on the discretion of the court can be of any nature namely, nominal, compensatory, punitive, exemplary, or aggravated. The nature of damages awarded depends upon the gravity of the offense, and the intention of the accused while committing the offense of false imprisonment.

  2. Writ: the writ of habeas corpus can be filed by the detainee or any other person on behalf of her. In cases of continuing detention, the writ can be invoked before the High Court under Article 226 or before the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.

Defenses

  1. Consent: If the accused is able to prove the consent of the complainant, the courts most often consider that the restraint was valid. However, the law does not permit waving of the fundamental rights i.e., right to liberty in this context.

  2. Necessity: Necessity can serve as a probable cause for imprisonment. For example, in circumstances when there is an apprehension of a tortious action on the accused by the plaintiff, and therefore, if confines the plaintiff. Such imprisonment can be held valid under the law.

  3. Authorized Arrest: if the arrest is made by remaining under the provisions of the legislation. For example, when citizens are awarded the power to make an arrest under section 43 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.


Conclusion


False imprisonment is a trespass committed towards a person without just cause and in the manner contrary to law. The gist of false imprisonment is unlawful detention, where motive or purpose is not a useful element. The term false in its form characterizes irregularity or invalidity and it is a common-law misdemeanor and a recognized tort. In India, the offense is a criminal offense and takes into account the intention of the perpetrator. What differentiates between the tort and crime of false imprisonment is the intention. The tort or crime is based on the principle of freedom or liberty of an individual which is further protected by the grundnorm of the nation i.e., Constitution of India under its article 21. False imprisonment as a crime and tort, therefore, becomes a severe offense attacking directly on the basic rights of humankind. There have been instances where the officers of the law, and other officials are seen violating this right to liberty, false imprisonment with it's not so deeply interpreted provisions tricked and used in favor of the accused. The provisions should be revisited for interpretation by the guardians i.e., judiciary.


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