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Meaning of Malicious Prosecution under Law of Torts

Malicious prosecution under the Law of Torts involves initiating false criminal, bankruptcy, or liquidation proceedings against an individual driven by malice, lacking any reasonable basis or likelihood of success.

Essential Components of Malicious Prosecution under Law of Torts

To make a case for malicious prosecution, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate several essential elements constituting liability:

  • The defendant initiated unfounded legal proceedings against the plaintiff.
  • These proceedings were motivated solely by malice, lacking any reasonable or probable cause.
  • The outcome of such proceedings must ultimately favor the plaintiff, whether through acquittal or dismissal of the suit.
  • The plaintiff must prove that these legal actions unjustly infringed upon their liberty and resulted in adverse consequences to their reputation in society.

Civil proceedings

In the case of Genu Ganapati v. Bhalchand Jivraj, the Bombay High Court established similar principles for determining civil liability in instances of malicious prosecution.

1. Prosecution by the defendant:

  • To establish a case of malicious prosecution, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the prosecution was initiated against them due to arbitrary actions by the defendant. While the term 'prosecution' is not precisely defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974, judicial precedents have shed light on its essence and scope.
  • Contrary to popular belief, prosecution extends beyond formal trial proceedings or the initiation of legal action against the plaintiff. In the case of Mohammed Amin v. Jogendra Kumar Banerjee, the Privy Council provided a test for determining prosecution. The council emphasized the harm inflicted upon the plaintiff as a result of the proceedings, rather than focusing solely on when the proceedings took on the form of prosecution. It was ruled that the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that, despite the dismissal of the defendant's complaint by the magistrate, it still caused damage to them.

What is not a prosecution?

  • It is a well-established principle that disciplinary actions taken by administrative authorities cannot be considered as prosecution by a judicial authority, and therefore, they cannot be the subject of a malicious prosecution lawsuit.
  • Moreover, in the case of Khagendra Nath v. Jacob Chandra, the court clarified that prosecution does not commence at the stage where a complaint is made before a competent executive authority.

2. Presence of malice and the lack of reasonability or probability in plaintiff’s prosecution:

  • This requirement underscores the importance of establishing the defendant's intention while initiating legal action against the plaintiff. This intention must be assessed based on factual evidence, as emphasized in the case of Jogendra Garababu v. Lingaraj Patra. It is crucial to demonstrate that the complaint lacked the intent of seeking justice and instead was motivated by malice, which extends beyond mere ill feelings or hatred towards the plaintiff. The term 'malice' encompasses any improper motive, such as gaining leverage, to wrongfully harm the plaintiff, as seen in the case of Bank of India v. Lakshmimani Das and Ors.
  • This assessment should be made from the perspective of a reasonable person. Even if the defendant was initially unaware of the plaintiff's innocence, malice can still be inferred if, upon learning of the plaintiff's innocence, the defendant continues with baseless proceedings. The burden of proving such malice lies with the prosecution.
  • Additionally, if it is demonstrated during the trial that, despite harboring negative feelings towards the plaintiff, the complaint was reasonable due to the probability of the plaintiff's wrongdoing, then a suit for malicious prosecution may not be feasible.

3. Termination of the prosecution in the favour of Plaintiff:
The case of malicious prosecution in Tort Law can only be invoked if the proceedings against the plaintiff have terminated in their favor, either through acquittal or the suspension of further legal actions. It's important to note that such termination doesn't necessarily imply the plaintiff's innocence but rather indicates the absence of a conviction on the charges. This principle was established in the case of Gilchrist v. Gardner.
However, there are two exceptions to this rule:

  • If the plaintiff and defendant settle the matter, resulting in the withdrawal of allegations against the plaintiff.
  • In criminal cases, a plea bargain does not constitute a termination in favor of the plaintiff and therefore does not fulfill the requirement for invoking malicious prosecution.

4. Damages to be accrued by the plaintiff as a result of the wrongful prosecution:
The final requirement to establish malicious prosecution in Tort Law is that the plaintiff must have suffered harm or injury as a result of the prosecution that terminated in their favor. This harm must be foreseeable and not extremely remote. The categorization of this harm was first outlined by Holt CJ in the case of Savile v. Roberts and later reiterated by the Calcutta High Court in the case of C.M. Agarwalla v. Halar Salt and Chemical Works.
The categories of harm are as follows:

  • Damage to Reputation: If the prosecution has led to tarnishing the plaintiff's reputation in the eyes of the community through baseless allegations, damages for reputational harm can be sought.
  • Physical Harm: If the proceedings have impinged upon the plaintiff's liberty or caused fear of physical injury, damages for physical harm are recoverable.
  • Property Damage: Expenses incurred by the plaintiff in defending themselves against unfounded charges are recoverable if the proceedings result in their favor and are deemed arbitrary.

Question for Malicious Prosecution under Law of Torts
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What is a necessary component for a case of malicious prosecution under the Law of Torts to be valid?
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Difference Between Malicious Prosecution and Abuse of Power

  • Significance of the Distinction: Understanding the difference between malicious prosecution and abuse of power is crucial for determining legal liability.
  • Malicious Prosecution: Malicious prosecution involves initiating legal proceedings with malicious intent, seeking to harm the other party without a valid reason.
  • Abuse of Power: Abuse of power, as distinguished in the case of West Bengal State Electricity Board v. Dilip Kumar Ray, involves using legal processes for motives other than their intended purpose, often for personal gain.
  • Legal Perspective: The Supreme Court of India clarified that malicious prosecution is driven by malice, while abuse of power involves manipulating legal processes for ulterior motives.
  • Examples:
    • In a case of malicious prosecution, a person might file a baseless lawsuit against someone they dislike simply to cause them trouble.
    • On the other hand, an abuse of power could occur when a government official uses their authority to gain personal benefits, such as accepting bribes for issuing permits.

Defences against Malicious Prosecution under the Law of Torts

  • One possible defense in a malicious prosecution case arises when the plaintiff is found to be at fault. This means that if the legal proceedings brought against the plaintiff lead to a conviction because they are indeed guilty of the accusations, the plaintiff loses the right to sue the defendant. In such a scenario, the plaintiff's only recourse would be to appeal against the verdict.
  • Another defense is when the defendant possesses a certain privilege. This privilege could manifest in the form of judicial or statutory immunity, providing the defendant with legal protection against the prosecution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the malicious prosecution lawsuit serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it provides the plaintiff with the means to sue the defendant who wrongfully initiated a case without probable cause. Secondly, it serves to safeguard one's liberty and reputation not just through the awarding of damages but also by creating a deterrent effect on the wrongdoer. This protective mechanism aligns with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, reinforcing the significance of preserving individual rights and liberties.

Question for Malicious Prosecution under Law of Torts
Try yourself:
What is the distinction between malicious prosecution and abuse of power?
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FAQs on Malicious Prosecution under Law of Torts - Civil Law for Judiciary Exams

1. What is the meaning of Malicious Prosecution under the Law of Torts?
Ans. Malicious Prosecution under the Law of Torts refers to the wrongful initiation of criminal proceedings against an individual without probable cause and with malicious intent.
2. What are the essential components of Malicious Prosecution under the Law of Torts?
Ans. The essential components of Malicious Prosecution include the initiation of legal proceedings by the defendant, lack of probable cause, malice on the part of the defendant, termination of the proceedings in favor of the plaintiff, and damages suffered by the plaintiff.
3. What is the difference between Malicious Prosecution and Abuse of Power?
Ans. Malicious Prosecution involves the wrongful initiation of legal proceedings with malice and lack of probable cause, while Abuse of Power refers to the misuse of authority or position to achieve an unlawful or improper purpose.
4. What are the possible defenses against Malicious Prosecution under the Law of Torts?
Ans. Defenses against Malicious Prosecution may include showing that there was probable cause for initiating the legal proceedings, that the plaintiff consented to the proceedings, or that the defendant acted in good faith.
5. Provide 5 meaningful Frequently Asked Questions related to Malicious Prosecution under the Law of Torts.
Ans. 1. What must a plaintiff prove in a case of Malicious Prosecution? 2. Can a defendant be held liable for Malicious Prosecution if the criminal proceedings result in a conviction? 3. How can malice be proven in a Malicious Prosecution case? 4. Are there any limitations on when a lawsuit for Malicious Prosecution can be filed? 5. What factors are considered when calculating damages in a Malicious Prosecution case?
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