Complete deprivation of liberty

A false imprisonment of one is the complete deprivation of his liberty for any time, however short, without lawful cause. There need not be any actual imprisonment in the ordinary sense, i.e., incarceration. Even a person who is too ill and incapacitated to move about may have an action for false imprisonment if his freedom of movement had actually been restrained for any time, however short it may have been.

     The restrain must be complete. There must have been restriction of movement in all directions. If the plaintiff was free to move in any direction, and was only prevented from proceeding in one particular direction, then it will not be considered as constituting the wrong of false imprisonment. In Bird v. Jones, the defendants wrongfully enclosed part of the public footpath on Hammersmith bridge, put seats on it for the use of spectators of a boat race on the river and charged for admission to the enclosure. The plaintiff insisted on passing along this footpath and climbed over the fence of the enclosure without paying the charge. The defendants prevented him from proceeding in that direction but told him that he may go back into the carriageway and cross to the other side of the bridge if he so desired. He refused and remained in the enclosure for half an hour. In an action brought by the plaintiff against the defendants claiming damages for false imprisonment defendants were held not liable.

    A person who is lawfully arrested and detained in a prison or a convict who is lawfully committed to prison can sue for false imprisonment if he is held under intolerable physical conditions making his detention illegal. Bad faith need not be proved.

Requirements of action

In an action for recovery of damages for committing the tort of false imprisonment, the plaintiff is only required to prove that he was imprisoned and that the same was caused by the defendant or his servants acting in the course of employment. On proof of these facts, the plaintiff succeeds in establishing the same and it is then for the defendant to prove the lawful justification for the same and it is not for the plaintiff to prove its absence.

     False imprisonment means restrain of liberty and implies loss of reputation. The damages may be aggravated if the defendants have acted in a high-handed manner and caused more than the usual amount of suffering and did not express any regret. The damages can be mitigated if the defendants act bona fide and express repentance for the wrong done by them at the earliest opportunity. The quantum of damages has largely to be left to the discretion of the trial Judge.



Any reasonable condition imposed by occupiers of a premises on persons who enter their premises is justifiable. If a man is detained by an occupier for the purpose of compelling the entrant to fulfil any of those conditions, it will not constitute false imprisonment. A private person arresting on suspicion of an arrestable offence must prove not only reasonable grounds for his suspicion but also that the arrestable offence in question has been committed by someone.

    Reasonable and honest belief in the existence of certain circumstances which, if true, would justify the arrest was held to be a good defence for false imprisonment in certain cases. But it is always a matter for the Judge to decide whether there were grounds for reasonable belief on the part of the defendant for an arrest.

    Indeed the law confers wider power of arrest without warrant on police-officers than on private persons. In India, the power of arrest by police-officers and private persons is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code. All citizens are enjoyed to aid public officers in the apprehension of criminals, and in the prevention of breaches of the peace, dispersal of unlawful assemblies, etc. (Ss. 37, 38 and 129, CrPC) A police officer has power to arrest persons suspected of having committed serious offences such as murder, grievous hurt with dangerous weapons, etc. But he could not arrest a person without warrant for offences like forgery, cheating and offences against the State like sedition. Again, special statutes like the Railways Act and Explosives Act enable policeman to arrest certain classes of wrongdoers immediately on the spot such as ticketless travellers on railway trains.

Distinction from abuse of procedure

In criminal law the defendant's mistake belief in circumstances which, if they existed, would make his resistance lawful may provide him with a defence even if the mistake is unreasonable. But the civic law is probably less generous.

Disclosure of grounds of arrest

A policeman who arrests a person should disclose to him the reason for the arrest, otherwise he will be liable for false imprisonment.


There is no false imprisonment where the plaintiff consents to the defendants' order. He is not to be taken as consenting simply because he does not resist by force. There is a difference between consent on the one hand and peaceful but unwilling submission to express or implied threats of force or asserted legal authority (whether valid or not) on the other.


The remedies for false imprisonment are: (1) Self-help, (2) habeas corpus, and (3) action for damages. The writ of habeas corpus is considered to be the golden remedy provided by English law for the release of a person unlawfully detained. Anyone may apply for the writ of habeas corpus commanding the person to whom it is addressed to bring the person specified (whether the applicant himself or another) before the court on a certain day, stating the day and cause of his being taken and detained and to abide by the decision there made. The decision will be either that the prisoner will be released forthwith or if the detention is lawful that he be speedily brought to trial.


The Supreme Court has awarded compensation to person who were wrongfully detained and injuries were caused to them. Such compensation was awarded in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution. This does not take away the right of the victim for filing further action for damages but the amount awarded by the Supreme Court may be deducted from the amount which may be awarded by the civil court. Public law remedies have been extended by the Supreme Court to the realm of tort.

 False imprisonment and malicious prosecution

The action for damages for false imprisonment should be distinguished from that for malicious prosecution. The distinction between the two types of wrongs consists in the matter of proof. In an action for false imprisonment the plaintiff need only prove actual restraint by the defendant. In the action for malicious prosecution the burden of proof on the plaintiff is very heavy. He must prove that the defendant (1) instituted a prosecution of him which (2) ended in the plaintiff's favour and (3) was instituted without reasonable and probable cause and was (4)malicious.

     In malicious prosecution, the prior proceeding complained of by the plaintiff been instituted by the defendant, i.e., he must have been the person who put the law in motion against the plaintiff.

    The bringing of an ordinary civil action (not extending to any arrest or seizure of property) is not a good cause of action for malicious prosecution however unfounded, vexations or malicious it might be.