False Imprisonment and other forms of Trespass

False Imprisonment and other forms of Trespass

Author: Meenakshi Raj, Law Center 1, Faculty of Law, Delhi University.


The French word ‘Tort’ has been derived from a Latin term ‘Tortum’, which means to twist.  It is a violation of rights or breach of duty by one person towards the other person. A tort is that system of law which enables a person who has suffered harm or injury by the act of another person, to claim damages under a civil suit and works on the fundamental principle of ‘ALTERUM NON-LEADRE’ which means ‘ TO HURT NOBODY BY WORD OR DEED’.

The essential nature of the law of tort is that it is not codified like the statute laws. The reason is simple – tortuous liability can arise in a number of ways and that number is so large that it is almost impossible to specify each and every act on the part of the defendant, who may be liable for damages.


In the dictionary meaning, the word ‘trespass’ means to enter into someone’s land or property. According to the Law of Tort, trespass, in its widest sense, signifies any transgression or offenses against the law of nature, of society, or of the country, whether relating to a man’s person or to his property.

Acts of Trespass:

The most obvious acts of trespass are:-

  1.  Trespass viet armis or Trespass of Person.
  2. Trespass quare clausum fergit or Trespass of Land.
  3. Trespass de bonis asportatis or Trespass to Goods or Chattels.

Trespass of Person:

The principle of trespass states ‘any direct invasion of a protected interest from a positive act is actionable subject to jurisdiction. If the invasion is indirect through foreseeable or if the invasion is from an omission as distinguished from a positive act, there is no liability in trespass’. Further, if an injury is caused due to negligence and not intentionally, the only cause of action then is negligence and not trespass.

The two important rules of trespass are-

  1. That it is for the defendant to plead and prove justification and not for the plaintiff to show that the defendant’s conduct was unreasonable.
  2. Damage is not an essential part and need not be proved by the plaintiff. The importance of trespass lies in the fact that it can be used for the protection of one’s liberty and vindication of constitutional rights.

Chief forms of Trespass to Person are-

  1. Battery-  An intentional and direct application of force to another person without any lawful jurisdiction. The force may be used through objects like a stick, bullet, etc,
  2. Assault- Assualt is an act of the defendant which causes the plaintiff reasonable apprehension of the infliction of battery on him by the defendant.
  3. False Imprisonment- to impose a complete restriction on a person’s liberty/ freedom for some time/ no matter however short.


The application of force that requires actual contact (direct/indirect) with the body of another person so a seizing and laying hold of a person so as to restrain him, spitting in the face, throwing over a chair or carriage in which the other person is sitting, throwing water over a person, causing another person to be medically examined against his or her will, are all held to amount to battery.

Where a person pushed another person aside to get in front, it may amount to battery. [Ashton v Jennings (1674)].

Touching a person in a friendly manner or calling his attention to something is not battery [Coward v Baddeley].

Force when justified- Harm voluntarily suffered is no battery as volenti fit injuria is a complete defense. The use of force may also be justified in pulling a drowning man out of water or forcibly feeding a hunger-striking person to save his life. [Leigh v Gladstone]


The wrong consists in an attempt to do the harm rather than the harm being caused thereby. Pointing a loaded pistol at someone is an assault. If the pistol is not loaded then even it may be an assault if pointed at such a distance that it may cause injury. [R. v S. George].

The word assault is incorrectly used by laymen as meaning the actual infliction of force by one person on another such as when A beats B. thus, ‘popular assault begins when legal assault ends’. The essential part of assault is that, there should be prime facie ability to do harm or in other words, there must be the means to carry the threat into effect. 

The plaintiff was in the chair at a parish meeting. The defendant who sat seven places away on the same table proved unruly, whereupon a resolution to eject him was passed. Then the defendant said that he would rather pull the plaintiff out of the chair, he moved towards the plaintiff with clenched fists upon the plaintiff but was stopped. The defendant was held liable for assault.

Distinction between Battery and Assault:

  • While in a battery, the actual force is necessary, in an assault, actual contact or infliction of force is not necessary.
  • An assault precedes a battery.
  •  If the person is about to sit on a chair and the chair is pulled, there is an assault sp long as he is in the process of falling on the ground, but as soon as his body touches the ground, it becomes a battery.
  • Assault is defined in IPC, Sec. 351 and Batter is equivalent to a criminal force defined in Sec. 350, IPC.

False Imprisonment:

“ Every restraint of the liberty of one person by another person is imprisonment and, if imposed without lawful cause, constitutes false imprisonment which is both a criminal offense and an actionable tort” [ Ram Pyaare Lal v Om Prakash 1977 Cr LJ 1984].

The word ‘false means erroneous or wrong’ and the word ‘imprisonment’ means to put someone in prison or the condition of being kept in prison. False imprisonment, sometimes even addressed as false arrest means to impose a total restraint on someone for some period, however short, upon the liberty of another, without sufficient justification.

Eg- If a professor locks up his students in the classroom after usual lecture hours, it would amount to false imprisonment.

Essentials of False Imprisonment:

The essentials required to constitute this wrong are:-

  1. Total restraint on the liberty of a person.
  2. The restraint should be without any lawful justification.

Under criminal law, both ‘wrongful restraint’[Sec 339 IPC], as well as ‘total restraint’ i.e, wrongful confinement [Sec 340 IPC], are actionable in the Indian Penal Code. Whereas in tort, the restraint must be total and the false imprisonment must prove that there is a complete deprivation of an individual’s liberty.

Thus, it is not only necessary under false imprisonment that the person is kept in prison or confined under the four walls of a building. There must be some restraint restricting a person’s liberty within certain circumscribed circumstances.

Remedies: Trespass to Person:

  1. Action for Damages– the plaintiff is entitled to recover by way of general damages compensation for the indignity or suffering which the trespass has caused. Damages should be commensurate with the injury and annoyance caused even though there has been no serious personal injury. They vary according to the circumstances of each case. In false imprisonment, compensation may be claimed only for injury to liberty but also for disgrace, mental suffering, and humiliation caused thereby.
  2. Self-help- a person is authorized to use reasonable force in order to have an escape from detention instead of waiting for legal action.
  3. Habeas Corpus- it is a speedier remedy for procuring the release of a person wrongfully detained (Article 32/226) of the Constitution. By this writ, the person detaining is required to produce the detained person before the court and justify the detention. If the court finds the detention is without any just or reasonable ground, it will order the immediate release of the person detained. If such a person has been released before the writ is disposed of, the court may grant compensation as ancillary relief in such cases.

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