LET ME GO! YOU CAN’T DETAIN ME! by Vincent Obeng & Abena Oduro Osae

Before the study of torts, one was quick to jump to the conclusion that it is only The Police Service that was guilty of false imprisonment. You must have prevented your friend from leaving the washroom back in primary school for the fun of it and to savor his reaction. It is common to find people preventing others from leaving a given area in the name of a prank. The next time the crazy idea pops up in your mind, remember that by locking up your friend you might be liable in the tort of false imprisonment.

Contrary to public opinion, false imprisonment does not necessarily involve locking up a person in a prison cell. The physical restraint of an individual’s freedom with no reasonable means of escape is false imprisonment.

False imprisonment includes an imprisonment which in the case of Warner v. Riddiford, the judge said: “to constitute an imprisonment, it was not necessary that the person should be locked up within four walls, but that, if he was restrained in his freedom of action by another that was an act of imprisonment…” However, the said imprisonment must be total for false imprisonment to hold, hence if it is partial with a reasonable means of escape it is not false imprisonment. Say a friend locked one of the doors to Lecture room 1 with you in it; false imprisonment will not be established because your “imprisonment” is not total since the other door provides a reasonable means of escape. This exemplar is illustrated in the case of Bird v Jones, where it was held that the plaintiff’s refusal to cross by the opposite path after the defendant blocked one side of the Hammersmith Bridge was not false imprisonment since he had a reasonable means of leaving thus the imprisonment was not total.

Also in the case of Sunbolf v. Alford where the defendant, an innkeeper, detained the plaintiff who was a customer of his for not paying his bill, the court held that it was false imprisonment. From the aforementioned it is noted that false imprisonment can take place anywhere, be it a highway or hospital or even a bridge. The only requirement is the total restraint with limitation of boundaries by the defendant. Hence, that neighbor of mine who was prevented from leaving the hospital because he could not afford to pay his bills will succeed in action for false imprisonment.

The evolution of the common law has witnessed a conflict as to whether or not consciousness of restraint is a key element of false imprisonment. In the case of Herring v. Boye it was held that consciousness of restraint must be established for an action in false imprisonment to succeed to the view taken by Lord Atkin in the case of Meering v. Graham-White Aviation Co. that, consciousness of the confinement was irrelevant to establishing false imprisonment. Lord Atkin said; “… a person can be imprisoned while he is asleep, while he is in a state of drunkenness, while he is unconscious, and while he is a lunatic.” Wow!! Guess who will succeed in an action for false imprisonment against his roommates for locking her in the room as he slept? This boy!

Here is the interesting part, that article 14(5) of the 1992 Constitution provides that “any person who is unlawfully arrested, restricted or detained by any other person shall be entitled to compensation therefore from that other person.” Thus if the plaintiff is aware of his restraint then he is entitled higher compensation and if he is unconscious of his restraint; he will be awarded nominal damages. Hence, you should be willing to part with money if you decide to restrain a person’s freedom of movement.

So the next time you are prevented from leaving a place; remember that you cannot be detained for whatsoever reason.