How far is Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Act, a valid defence in tort?

The defense of Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Act in tort law refers to the principle that individuals performing judicial or quasi-judicial functions should be immune from liability for their actions or decisions made in the course of their official duties. This defense recognizes the importance of preserving the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and other decision-making bodies. However, the recognition and application of this defense as a valid defense in tort vary among jurisdictions.

Judicial acts involve the exercise of authority by judges or judicial officers within a court of law. Quasi-judicial acts, on the other hand, refer to actions or decisions made by individuals or administrative bodies that are similar in nature to judicial acts but are outside the traditional court setting. These acts may include decisions made by administrative tribunals, regulatory bodies, or other entities exercising quasi-judicial functions.

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The defense of Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Act typically requires the following elements to be established:

  1. Performance of a judicial or quasi-judicial function: The defense applies when the defendant is performing a function that is considered judicial or quasi-judicial in nature. This can include making decisions, issuing orders, or resolving disputes in a manner that resembles the functions performed by courts.
  2. Acting within the scope of authority: The act or decision must be made within the scope of the individual’s or body’s authority. This means that they must be acting in accordance with the applicable laws, regulations, or rules governing their function.
  3. No lack of jurisdiction or excess of jurisdiction: The defense typically applies when the individual or body has proper jurisdiction over the matter at hand. If there is a lack of jurisdiction or an excess of jurisdiction, meaning that the decision is made outside the authorized scope, the defense may not be available.
  4. Immunity from liability: The defense asserts that individuals or bodies performing judicial or quasi-judicial functions should be immune from liability for their actions or decisions made in good faith and without malice. This immunity is based on the principle that judges and decision-makers need the freedom to make impartial judgments without the fear of personal liability.

Position in English Law: No action lies for acts done, or words spoken, by a judge in exercise of his judicial office, although they may be malicious. The acts done or words spoken may not be in the honest exercise of his office. This rule of judicial immunity founded on the principle of public benefit that Judges should be at liberty to exercise their function independently and without fear of consequences. And this is so even if his motive is malicious, for “the remedy for judicial errors in some form of appeal to higher court, and the remedy for judicial corporation is criminal prosecution or removal of the Judge, but in neither case he is called on to defend his judgment in civil court.”

The immunity granted to judicial officer have been extended to quasi-judicial authorities. In the discharge of all their functions of quasi-judicial nature, they enjoy all such principles, which are generally available to judicial authorities. With respect to the functions exercisable by the quasi-judicial authorities they are obliged to follow the principles of natural justice which consists of two rules, namely, (i) rule against bias; (ii) right of hearing.

Position in Indian Law: In India his rule has been enacted in the Judicial Officers’ Protection Act, 1850, but no distinction has been maintained in this act between superior and inferior courts.

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The Indian decisions on the subject, however, make a distinction between acts within the jurisdiction of a court and those outside it. If the act done by a Judicial Officer is within the ambit of his jurisdiction he would enjoy the immunity irrespective of the fact whether he has done that act erroneously, irregularly or even illegally or without believing in good faith that he had jurisdiction to do that act. On the other hand, if such act is beyond the scope of his jurisdiction, he would be entitled to protection, only if at the time of doing it he, in good faith, believed himself to have jurisdiction to do it. Willful abuse of his authority by a Judge, that is, wilfully acting beyond his jurisdiction is a good cause of action by the party who is injured. The protection of judicial privilege is available only under judicial process as contrasted with administrative process.

Indian Parliament has enacted the Judges Protection Act, 1985. The Act has further widened the scope of protection to Judges while doing Judicial work. It has also widened the definition of the word ‘Judge’.

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