False Imprisonment

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: False Imprisonment

Quick Summary of False Imprisonment

Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It’s not necessary that physical force is used; threats or a show of apparent authority are sufficient. False imprisonment is a misdemeanour and a tort (a civil wrong). If the perpetrator confines the victim for a substantial period of time (or moves him a significant distance) in order to commit a felony, the false imprisonment may become a kidnapping. People who are arrested and get the charges dropped, or are later acquitted, often think that they can sue the arresting officer for false imprisonment (also known as false arrest). These lawsuits rarely succeed: As long as the officer had probable cause to arrest the person, the officer will not be liable for a false arrest, even if it turns out later that the information the officer relied upon was incorrect.

What is the dictionary definition of False Imprisonment?

Dictionary Definition

n. depriving someone of freedom of movement by holding a person in a confined space or by physical restraint including being locked in a car, driven about without opportunity to get out, being tied to a chair or locked in a closet. It may be the follow-up to a false arrest (holding someone in the office of a department store, for example), but more often it resembles a kidnapping with no belief or claim of a legal right to hold the person. Therefore, false imprisonment is often a crime and if proved is almost always the basis of a lawsuit for damages.

Full Definition of False Imprisonment

To ‘imprison’ someone is to deprive him of his liberty, in a very general sense. It does not require iron bars or stone walls: you can be imprisoned in the street. False imprisonment is a tort that is perpetrated when the defendant deprives the claimant of his liberty without lawful justification. If you arrest a person, that constitutes a prima facie imprisonment, so many cases against the police for wrongful arrest take the form of actions for false imprisonment.

Because the boundaries of false imprisonment are so wide, it might be helpful to consider some actions that do not amount to false imprisonment. Obstruction of a person’s right of way, even if the obstruction is unlawful, is not false imprisonment (see: Bird v Jones (1845)), although it might be actionable in Nuisance. It probably is not false imprisonment if a person accepts confinement voluntarily, with a contractual agreement as to his mode of release see: Robinson v Balmain New Ferry Co (1910). And, of course, there is no false imprisonment where the imprisoner acts under specific statutory authority (see: Power of arrest). It appears to be generally accepted that it is not false imprisonment to restrain someone from committing a Breach of the peace, although there is little case law on this.

It has often been argued that to be imprisoned, the claimant must have known of the fact of his imprisonment. However, this position was refuted in Meering v Grahame-White Aviation Co (1920).

False imprisonment is one of the few civil actions that can still be tried by a jury. Traditionally juries have awarded very large sums in damages, particularly where the defendant is a police officer. Enterprising lawyers have sometimes been able to frame an action that should properly be considered an Assault as one of false imprisonment (notoriously in Rape cases). The reasoning here – which is probably correct – is that a jury will be more sympathetic to the claimant’s plight than a judge would.

Cite Term

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Modern Language Association (MLA):
False Imprisonment. PayrollHeaven.com. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. September 20, 2021 https://payrollheaven.com/define/false-imprisonment/.
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
False Imprisonment. PayrollHeaven.com. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. https://payrollheaven.com/define/false-imprisonment/ (accessed: September 20, 2021).
American Psychological Association (APA):
False Imprisonment. PayrollHeaven.com. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from PayrollHeaven.com website: https://payrollheaven.com/define/false-imprisonment/

Definition Sources

Definitions for False Imprisonment are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 28th April, 2020 | 2 Views.