Differences Between Misdemeanor and Felony

This Article is written by Divyanshi Shukla a 1st year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal. This Article Highlights the Significance of knowledge in false imprisonment


INTRODUCTION

The offence of False Imprisonment falls under the intentional tort of trespass to a person. Trespass to a person is essentially a form of unjustifiable interference with a person’s body that can be committed either by causing actual harm or by simply inducing fear of force. The basic position is that direct and intentional acts of interference are dealt with by the tort of trespass, whilst indirect and inadvertent acts are dealt with by the tort of negligence. Trespass to a person is based on the idea that everyone’s body is inviolate. Through the evolution of the common law in various jurisdictions and the codification of common law torts, three forms of trespass to a person are recognized, assault, battery and false imprisonment and the common element is that the commission of wrong must be committed by “direct means”. Trespass is significant because it can be used to defend one’s liberty and to enforce constitutional rights. False imprisonment, like assault, violence, unlawful harassment, and breach of privacy, is an intentional tort.

False imprisonment is the deprivation of a person’s liberty sans any legal justification or authority. It can apply to any act in which a person intentionally restricts another person’s freedom to move or to leave without consent or legal justification. someone who willfully restricts another person’s freedom can be found accountable for false imprisonments in both civil and criminal courts. False imprisonment does not necessitate actual physical restriction. A claim for false imprisonments might be founded on either private activities or improper government detention. The tort of false imprisonment is actionable per se as it is a universally accepted principle that no one may imprison another without due process of law.

A person can be falsely imprisoned by a private individual, a police officer, or any public entity. It is not essential to place the person behind bars for false imprisonments; rather, he should be confined in an area from which there are no conceivable escape routes other than the will of the person restricting the person within that region. It is not the duration of the imprisonment that is important, but rather the lack of legal power to justify unlawful detention. A person can be falsely imprisoned by a private individual, a police officer, or any public entity. It is not essential to place the person behind bars for incarceration; rather, he should be confined in an area from which there are no conceivable escape routes other than the will of the person restricting the person within that region. It is not the duration of the imprisonment that is important, but rather the lack of legal power to justify unlawful detention. The action for false imprisonment is an action in personam.

According to Winfield, “False Imprisonment is infliction of bodily restraint which is not expressed or impliedly authorized by the law.”

According to Black Stone, “Every confinement of the person is an imprisonment, whether it be in a common prison, or in a private house, or in the stocks, or even by forcibly detaining one in the public street.”

ESSENTIALS REQUIRED FOR THE COMMISSION OF TORT OF FALSE IMPRISONMENT

False imprisonment exists in every state and each state has different laws to  deal with false imprisonment. Nevertheless, in general, there are several essential conditions that are required to constitute the tort of false imprisonment. These are as follows:

  • The intention of the defendant – False imprisonment is an intentional tort.  The intent or will to confine is the essential component to constitute the tort of false imprisonment.
  • Total restraint to the liberty of a person – False imprisonment is not defined as a partial restriction on one’s freedom to move. It cannot be stated that a person has been rendered a prisoner if a route is blocked and, therefore, he is compelled to turn back because he is unable to exercise his right of way. To constitute tort of false imprisonments, there should be complete restraint on a person’s freedom to movement. Such as in Bird v. Jones,[1] wherein the claimant wanted to walk across Hammersmith Bridge but the defendant had blocked off the public pathway, nonetheless, this did not amount to false imprisonment because the claimant could have reached destination by taking a longer route and their was not total restraint to the liberty of the claimant.
  • The restraint must be unlawful – To constitute the tort of false imprisonment, there should be no lawful justification for the restrain. For instance, if police arrest a person based on genuine charges, that person would not be falsely imprisoned. In the leading case of Bird v Jones, Coleridge, J, said:

“A prison may have its boundary large or narrow, visible and tangible, or, though real, still in the conception only; it may itself be moveable or fixed: but a boundary it must have; and that boundary the party imprisoned must be prevented from passing; he must be prevented from leaving that place, within the ambit of which the party imprisoning would confine him, except by prison-breach. Some confusion seems to me to arise from confounding imprisonment of the body with mere loss of freedom: it is one part of the definition of freedom to be able to go whithersoever one pleases; but imprisonment is something more than the mere loss of this power; it includes the notion of restraint within some limits defined by a will or power exterior to our own.”

  • Restraint may be physical or constructive – A person can falsely imprison another person either through physical restraint as in confining someone in a room or it can also be constructive as in restraining someone by authority. For instance, if A says to B that if B leaves a certain area, A will shoot B. This particular instance would also constitute the tort of false imprisonment.

SIGNIFICANCE OF KNOWLEDGE IN FALSE IMPRISONMENT

As described by Prosser,[2] “false imprisonment is an invasion of an interest that is in a sense mental, resembling the apprehension of contact in the assault cases. Therefore, if one encloses another within definitive bounds without just cause and without the consent of the other, he is liable for false imprisonment.”

The tort of false imprisonment is actionable per se and ergo awareness or knowledge of the person restrained is not necessary to constitute false imprisonment. It has been stated by Lord Atkin in the case of Meering v Graham White Aviation[3] that,

 “Any restraint within fixed boundaries which is a restraint in fact may be an imprisonment. It appears to me that a person could be imprisoned without his knowing it. I think a person can be imprisoned while he is asleep, while he is in a state of drunkenness and while he is a lunatic. Those are cases where it seems to me that the person might properly complain if he were imprisoned, though the imprisonment began and ceased while he was in that state.”

It is based on the principle that false imprisonment is not as much as incursion of a mental interest in security as it is of the right of free movement. The false imprisonment begins at the time when a person is restrained within a limit and not at the moment of discovery of restraint by the person. In the judgement by the House of Lords in the case of R v Bournwood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust[4], wherein the appellant was mentally ill and hence was incapable of knowing that he was detained, even after this the court held in favor of the appellant and held the defendants liable for false imprisonment. Ergo, by this judgement it was affirmed that knowledge of the person detained is immaterial to constitute the tort of false imprisonments. It is sufficient to constitute a tort of false imprisonment by proving that there was total restraint of liberty. As put forward by Lord Griffiths in case of Murray v. Ministry of Defence.[5]

“The law attaches supreme importance to the liberty of the individual and if he suffers a wrongful interference with that liberty it should remain actionable even without proof of special damange.”

Nevertheless, as observed in R. v Bournewood NHS Trust[6], “A person who is unaware that he has been imprisoned and who has suffered no harm can normally expect to recover nominal damages only.”

Even though, the knowledge of the person detained is immaterial, but the knowledge or intention of the person detaining the other person is one of the most important constituents of false imprisonment. A person is not liable for false imprisonment unless his or her act is done with the intent to impose confinement or with knowledge that confinement will be imposed with a high degree of certainty. The necessary intent for the purposes of false imprisonments is the intent to confine.

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS

False imprisonment is the deprivation of a person’s liberty without any legal justification or authority. It is one of the most severe instances of human rights violations. Indian socio – legal system is built on the principles of non – violence, mutual respect and individual human dignity. The right to personal liberty, freedom and dignified existence as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution in Articles 20 and 21, cannot be revoked even in times of emergency and false imprisonment is incompatible with the rights. It is not essential to place the person behind bars for false imprisonment; rather, he should be confined in an area from which there are no conceivable escape routes other than the will of the person restricting the person within that region. It is not the duration of the imprisonment that is important, but rather the lack of legal power to justify unlawful detention.

The tort of false imprisonment is actionable per se and ergo awareness or knowledge of the person restrained is not necessary to constitute false imprisonment. It is based on the principle that false imprisonment is not as much as incursion of a mental interest in security as it is of the right of free movement. The false imprisonment begins at the time when a person is restrained within a limit and not at the moment of discovery of restraint by the person. As discussed in aforementioned cases, the tort of false imprisonment and the significance of knowledge to constitute the tort of false imprisonment has evolved and interpreted by courts through various landmark judgements.

Any person who is falsely imprisoned can bring a lawsuit against the perpetrator for infringement of fundamental rights. False imprisonment can occur due to the defendant’s malicious purpose or negligence, but the plaintiff is the one who suffers, therefore while assessing damages and awarding compensation, one must consider the place of confinement, time of confinement, and force utilised. The aforementioned factors would ensure that the aggrieved person gets fair justice.


[1]  [1845] 7 QB 742

[2] Prosser, Torts (1941) 68

[3] (1919) 121 LT 44

[4] (1997) CA 2

[5] 1988) 2 All ER 521

[6] (1998) 1 All ER 634

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