What is False Imprisonment?

False imprisonment as defined in Bird Vs. Jones, is a total restraint of liberty of a person, for however short time, without lawful excuse. It is an unjustified act of arresting, imprisoning or otherwise preventing a person from exercising his right of movement. It should be noted that to constitute a tort of false imprisonment the deprivation of the person’s liberty must be complete. In other words the restraint must be such as to limit his freedom of action in all directions.

The tort of false imprisonment has been defined as, “Every restraints of the liberty of one person by another is in law an imprisonment and, if imposed without lawful cause, a false imprisonment which it both a criminal offence and an actionable tort.”

Essential Ingredients

To constitute a wrong of false imprisonment, the following two things are necessary :

(i) The total restraint of the liberty of a person.

(ii) The detention must be unlawful.

The detention of a person may be either: (a) actual i.e., by physically laying hands upon a person or (b) constructive i.e., by mere show of authority.

Again the period for which the detention continues is immaterial. The only thing which is required is that the detention must be unlawful.

As observed by Blackstone, “Every confinement of the person is an imprisonment, whether it be in a common prison or in private house or in the stock, or even by forcibly detaining one in the public streets.

False imprisonment is a tort and for an action for damages due to it, the plaintiff must prove:

(a) his unlawful imprisonment and (b) that it was caused by the defendant or his servant acting in course of their employment.

Again it should be noted that if one compels another to stay in any given place against his will or unlawfully detains, he imprisons such person as if he locked him up in a room.

Code Ridge in Jcird Vs. Jones, observed as under:

“A person may have its boundary large or narrow, visible and tangible, or though real still in the conception only; it may itself be movable or fixed, but a boundary it must have; and in that boundary the party imprisoned 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 arise from confounding imprisonment of some body with mere loss of freedom; it is one part of the definition of freedom to be able to go wither soever one pleases; but imprisonment- is something more than the loss of this power, iot includes the notion of restraint within some time to be defined by a will or power exterior to our own.

In case of false imprisonment, it is not necessary that a man’s person should be detained.

Placing a person under the restraint of an officer who holds a writ for his arrest, is an imprisonment without proceeding to actual contract.

Salmond also observed that “To constitute the wrong in question there need be no actual imprisonment in the ordinary sense i.e., in conversation. Unlawful detention may be either custodial or non-custodial. It is enough that the plaintiff has been in any manner completely deprived of his personal liberty. A mere unlawful arrest amounts to false imprisonment, and so does any act whereby a man is unlawfully prevented from leaving the place in which he is, for example, a horse or a motor car, or sky lift….”

Falso imprisonment is the infliction of bodily restraint which is not expressly or impliedly authorised by law.

As held in Mecring Vs. Grahame White Aviation Co. Ltd., it is non necessary that the plaintiff must have the knowledge that he has been detained. And the tort of false imprisonment is committed even if the plaintiff did not know that he was being detained. Because a person can be imprisoned while he is asleep, in a state of drunkenness, in an unconscious state of mind and while he is a lunatic.

In Austin vs. Dowling, the defendant’s wife handed over the plaintiff into the custody of a constable on a charge of felony. The defendant then laid a definite charge of felony against the plaintiff upon which there was an enquiry wherein the magistrate ultimately discharge the plaintiff. Willes, J. held that the defendant was liable for false imprisonment till the production of the plaintiff before the magistrate.


As held in Rome Vs. Hawkins, if a person is unlawfully imprisoned, he may use force to release himself. False imprisonment is an actionable wrong and is also an offence under Indian Penal Code.

Difference between False Imprisonment and Assault

False Imprisonment may include assault but is not so vice versa. The element of force which is always present in a tort of assault, may not be so present in false imprisonment.


Question:- Define and explain ‘false imprisonment’. What are the remedies if a person is unlawfully imprisoned? What is the differences between false imprisonment and assault ?

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