False imprisonment or unlawful imprisonment occurs when a person intentionally restricts another person’s movement within any area without legal authority, justification, or the restrained person’s permission. Actual physical restraint is not necessary for false imprisonment to occur. A false imprisonment claim may be made based upon private acts, or upon wrongful governmental detention. For detention by the police, proof of false imprisonment provides a basis to obtain a writ of habeas corpus.
Defences for false imprisonment include consent and performance of a contract. Moreover, the defence of illegality may also apply, therefore if the defendant was acting illegally and you locked them in a room to protect yourself whilst you called the police this defence could also apply. However, if the use of force or in this case imprisonment was unreasonable, this would not be a viable defence, as is shown in the case of Revil v Newbery where a home owner fired a shotgun to the burglar and ended up injuring him, this was held to be an unreasonable use of force and thus, the defence of illegality was void.
If the false imprisonment was for a minimal amount of time, the claimant could be entitled to nominal damages, as this tort is actionable per se. I.e. in Walker v Commissioner of the police of the Metropolis , where someone was stopped in a doorway for a couple of seconds this was still held to be false imprisonment. Additionally, if the applicant was injured through trying to escape using reasonable methods they may be entitled to compensatory damages. Finally, if the claimant suffered an ‘affront to their dignity’, they may be awarded aggravated damages (these are very rare). For example, in the case of Hook v Cunard Steamship Co Ltd the sailor was confined to his quarters and accused for child molestation but with ‘no vestige of grounds in support’, this was held to be false imprisonment and aggravated damages were available due to this causing humiliation and injury to the claimant’s feelings.
Even when a person is involuntarily detained, not all acts of detention amount to false imprisonment. The law may privilege a person to detain somebody else against their will. A legally authorized detention does not constitute false imprisonment. For example, if a parent or legal guardian of a child denies the child’s request to leave their house, and prevents them from doing so, this would not ordinarily constitute false imprisonment. False imprisonment requires an intentional act, and an accidental detention will not support a claim of false imprisonment.
Within the context of false imprisonment, an imprisonment occurs when a person is restrained from moving from a location or bounded area, as a result of a wrongful intentional act, such as the use of force, threat, coercion, or abuse of authority.