19 Jan



– Intentional unlawful and unjustifiable detention/restraint of a person (the plaintiff).

– Against his will

– From all directions thus making it impossible or unreasonable to escape.

In Adeyemo v. Prince Akintola; Omage J.C.A defined false imprisonment as: “The total restraint of a man’s liberty whether it be in an open field or in a cage”.

See also, Udeagha v. Nwogwugwu. Amakiri v. Iwowari, Onwo v. Oko. Dele Giwa v. IGP.

False imprisonment is actionable per se. if the claimant has an option to refuse being falsely imprisoned, there is no false imprisonment. Clarke v. Davis. Furthermore, the plaintiff should explore reasonable means of escape- Davis and Alcott V. Boozer… except it can be shown that the option provided is actually not an option[1].

As noted by Edward Coke: Every restraint of the liberty of a man is imprisonment although it be not within the walls of any common prison.

In Sunbolf V. Alford, the boss of a restaurant locked up the customers who refused to pay. It was held to be false imprisonment.

Coleridge J. In Bird V. Jones**; noted; “A prison must have a boundary tangible or not, and that boundary, the party imprisoned must be prevented from passing… it includes the notion of restraint, within some limited space against ones will”.

Note the following principles

:: Restraint should be full rather than partial.

In the illustrative case of Bird v. Jones, Part of the Hammersmith Bridge had been closed to watch a boat race. Bird (the Plaintiff) wanted to enter but he was prevented by Jones (Defendant) and other policemen because he had not paid the admission fee. Bird was able to enter the enclosure by other means but was unable to go where he wanted to go. The policemen refused access to where he wanted to go and said he could go back and take the alternative route. Bird sued Jones for false imprisonment. It was held that imprisonment needs to be a total restraint and this tort does not protect partial restraint. Thus bird was not successful in his claim.

I am very fond of Lord Darman’s dissenting view in this judgment. He expressed that the freedom of one to do what he has the right to do should be our focus rather than providing alternative routes. However, if this view is adopted by the courts, their floodgates may be open.

:: Detention without authority constitutes false imprisonment.

:: If the restraint or detention was done carelessly, the plaintiff should sue in negligence. For example, mistakenly locking someone in a room-MacPherson v. Brown.

:: The plaintiff need not be aware/know that he is being falsely imprisoned.

Initially, it was necessary that the person being imprisoned should know that he is being falsely imprisoned. See for example Herring v. Boyle where a school boy was put in a place and not allowed to go home because he had not paid his school fees. It was held that since he was unaware that he was falsely imprisoned for not paying school fees, there was no false imprisonment. However, the new position can be seen in the case of Meering v. Graham-White Aviation co Limited. In this case, the claimant, an employee of the defendants was suspected of stealing paint, he was asked to go to the company’s office. When he entered the room and unknown to him, two guards stayed outside while he was questioned. The defendants contended that as far as the claimant knew, he was free to leave at any time because he was not aware that he was falsely imprisoned. The court held that knowledge that one is being imprisoned is irrelevant. This decision was affirmed in Murray v. Ministry of Defense though the court pointed out that in such an instance, the claimant would be entitled to nominal damages[2] when no harm whatsoever has been caused to him.

:: Consent vitiates claim for false imprisonmentHerd V. Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke co where a minor/underage descended into a mine to work for his employers, his shift was to end by 4 pm. Before the end of his shift, he disobeyed an order and he requested to be taken to the surface with a lift. He was denied the lift until the time for his shift. He sued for false imprisonment, the court refused to hold this on the ground of volenti non fit injuria.

There is no false imprisonment where you are given the option of leaving. Clarke v. Davies.


[1] E.g. a person is locked in a room but there is an escape which is a big window. The only problem is that the room is on the 7th floor of the building.

[2] Usually low in amount being just damages following a declaration of right.


Quite eccentric really

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