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Tort-Lawful Act and bad motive-Motive, Malice, Intention and tort

A good motive is no justification for an action otherwise illegal and a bad motive does not make wrongful an act otherwise legal. Discuss the statement with its exceptions, if any.

“It is the act and not the motive for the act that must be regarded. If the act, apart from the motive, gives rise merely to damage with legal injury, the motive, however, reprehensible it may be, will not supplement that element”
An act, otherwise lawful, cannot generally be made actionable by an averment that it was done with evil motive. An evil motive per se does not amount to injuria or legal wrong.If a person has a right to do something then his motive in doing it is irrelevant.

What is motive? Motive is the reasons behind a person's actions, an inner drive that signifies the reason for a person’s conduct. Motive leads to formation of intention, which is the subsequent cause. Motive is the ultimate object, with which an act is done, while intention is the immediate purpose. When an act is done with bad intention, it is called malice. Malice-in-Fact refers to performance of an act which may be legal, but with ill-will, or hatred, or bad intention. Whereas, Malice-in-Law, refers to a wrongful act, done intentionally, without just cause or legal excuse.

"Intent" in criminal law is synonymous with Mens rea, which means the mental state. A motive, in law, especially criminal law, is the cause that moves people to induce a certain action. The legal system typically allows motive to be proven in order to make plausible the accused's reasons for committing a crime. However, motive is not essential to the maintenance of an action for tort. A wrongful act does not become lawful merely because the motive is good. Similarly, a lawful act does not become wrongful because of an improper, evil motive or malice.

The decisions of Lord Halsbury and Lord Watson in Bradford Corporation Versus Pickle and Allen Versus Food may be treated as one of the earliest decisions that settled that motive is irrelevant in tort.
1.Bradford Corporation v Pickles [1895] AC 587
Facts-The plaintiffs owned land beneath which were water springs that were used for more than 40 years to supply Bradford town with water. The defendant owned land on a higher level than the plaintiffs. Under the defendant’s land was a natural reservoir and water flowed from this reservoir down to the plaintiffs’ springs. However, the defendant sank a shaft into his land in order to alter the flow of the water. This seriously reduced the amount of water that flowed into the plaintiffs’ springs. There was ample evidence to suggest that the defendant followed this course of action, not in order to provide any direct benefit to himself, but simply so as to deprive the plaintiffs of water. The plaintiffs insisted that this was malicious and hence that they were entitled to an injunction to prevent the defendant acting in this manner.

Lord Halsbury L.C : This is not a case in which the state of mind of the person doing the act can affect the right to do it. If it was a lawful act, however ill the motive might be, he had a right to do it. Motives and intentions in such a question as is now before your Lordships seem to me to be absolutely irrelevant.

LORD WATSON: No use of property, which would be legal if due to a proper motive, can become illegal because it is prompted by a motive which is improper or even malicious.

2. Allen v Flood [1898] AC 1
Flood and Walter was a shipwright employed on a ship, liable to be discharged at any time. Fellow workers objected to their employment as they had worked for a rival employer. Allen was a trade union representative for the other employees on the ship and approached the employers, telling them that if they did not discharge Flood and Walter, the other employees would strike. The employers consequently discharged Flood and Walter and refused to employ them again, where they otherwise would. Flood and Walter brought action for maliciously inducing a breach of contract.

Whether the judge erred in finding that Allen had induced a procurement of contract unlawfully.

The decision was reversed, finding that Allen had not violated any legal rights of Flood and Walter. There was no legal right for them to be employed by employer and Allen had not carried out an unlawful act and had not used any unlawful means, in procuring the employee’s dismissal. Allen was found to have made a representation to the employers of what would happen if they continued to employee Flood and Walter. He relied the events of what he believed would happen and the employers believed him. This was not considered to be an obstruction or disturbance of any right: it was not the procurement of the violation of any right. Allen’s conduct was not actionable, however malicious or bad his motive might be.

The courts in India have also spoken about the non-relevance of motive as well as malice in tort. In Vishnu Basudeo V. T.H.S Pearse [AIR 1949 NAG 364] and Town Area Committee V. Prabhu Dayal [AIR 1975 All 132], courts have held that it is to be seen if the act is lawful, then motive with which it was done is of little significance.

Exceptions to the rule
But it must be conceded that there are established exceptions to the general rule of irrelevancy of motive in torts. There are certain categories of torts where motive may be an essential element or relevant in determining liability.

1. Defamation:

Defamation refers to the act of publication of defamatory content that lowers, harms or injures the reputation, character or goodwill of an individual or an entity. If defamation occurs in spoken words or gestures (or other such transitory form) then it is termed as slander and the same if in written or printed formsuch as writings, pictures, cartoons, statues etcis libel. Defamation in India is both a civil and a criminal offence. In Civil Law, defamation falls under the Law of Torts, which imposes punishment in the form of damages awarded to the claimant (person filing the claim). Under Criminal Law, Defamation is bailable, non-congnizable and compoundable offence. Defamation as a criminal offence is listed under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code-whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person. The punishment, mentioned under section 500, can extend upto simple imprisonment for a term of two years, or with fine, or both.

There are certain essential requirements for a successful defamation suit-

First, the presence of defamatory content is required. Defamatory content is defined as one calculated to injure the reputation of another by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule. Second, the claimant should be identified in the defamatory statement. The content must be clearly addressing a particular person or a very small group for it to be defamation. Third, there must be a publication of the defamatory statement in either oral or written form.

Some of the defenses to defamation are:

·A substantially true report was published.
·Individual may be protected from claims of defamation under tort or even criminal defamation by a privilege conferred on them by law
·When it is a fair comment.

2.Deceit– Are presentation which is false and dishonestly made and intended to be and is relied on and the claimant suffers damage as a result.

Deceit is a tort arising out of a false statement of fact made by one person/entity, knowingly or recklessly, with the intention that it should be acted upon by another person/entity, who suffers damage as a result.
It is difficult to bring a claim in deceit, as the claimant must show that the defendant has made:
a. Representation: There must be a statement (written or oral) or conduct amounting to a representation which is false. Silence would not be considered a representation.

b. False:
For the tort of deceit to be actionable it is not enough that the defendant was negligent as to whether the representation was false, the defendant has to know the statement was untrue or be reckless as to the truthfulness. Anything less than this is not enough. This is a subjective test as it relates to the defendant’s actual knowledge and state of mind.

c. Reliance upon the representation:
The claimant must be able to prove that he relied on the representation and that the defendant intended him to rely on it.

d. Damage or loss must have been suffered as a result of the deceit.
The representation does not need to have been the sole reason leading to the claimant’s loss, but it must have been one of the factors which together led to the loss.

3. Malicious Prosecution is defined as a judicial proceeding instituted by one person against another, with malicious intention without any reasonable and probable cause.

Following are the essential elements which the plaintiff is required to prove in a suit for damages for malicious prosecution:-

# Prosecution by the defendant.
# Absence of reasonable and probable cause.
# Defendant acted maliciously.
# Termination of proceedings in the favour of the plaintiff.
# Plaintiff suffered damage as a result of the prosecution.

4. Injurious falsehood-injurious falsehood involves malicious intent through a false statement made about another business, used to induce others to act in a way that causes that business harm.
How does defamation compare with injurious falsehood?

There are slight differences between the two causes of action in terms of what must be proven in court:
# In a matter of injurious falsehood, the business must show that the publication was actually untrue, whereas in defamation falsity is already a presumption at common law;
# The business must also show that the publication had a malicious intent, whereas in a defamation case it is unnecessary to prove, except to the extent, that it may go towards proving damages;
# On top of this, the business has to show actual damage, whereas in defamation cases the damage is presumed at the moment the publication has been shown to be defamatory.

Intentional tort

In order to commit an intentional tort, some action must be done with a purpose i.e there must be an intention to commit an act. Presence of mental element is essential.

Intentional tort includes the following
1. Battery:
When some force is applied physically to the body of another person in an offensive manner which causes some harm is called battery.

2. Assault:
When the act of one person creates an apprehension in the mind of another person that such act is likely or intended to cause such harm. It could range from pointing a gun at a person to verbally threatening a person.

The difference between battery and assault, is, in battery physical contact is mandatory, in assault physical contact is not mandatory as the purpose is to threaten and not harm.

3.False imprisonment:
It is the unlawful confinement of the person without his will. It is not necessary that person should be put behind the bars, a mere impossibility of escape against the will of the person from a certain area is enough to constitute a tort of false imprisonment. It includes the use of physical force (actual expression of force is not always necessary), a physical barrier like a locked room, invalid use of legal authority. False arrest is the part of false imprisonment which includes detaining of the person by the police without lawful authority. Malicious prosecution falls within the category of false imprisonment.

It is the intentional, unreasonable invasion of the property, land, person or goods. The unreasonable interference can cause harassment or harm to the other person, no matter how slight it is. The legal right of the owner of the property is infringed because he is deprived of his right to enjoy the benefit of the property by the misappropriation or exploitation of his right.

Types of trespass are: Trespass to person, trespass to land and trespass to chattel. Trespass is malfeasance i.e; commission of illegal / wrongful act which is actionable per se.

Unintentional Tort-

In unintentional torts, mental element is insignificant in determining tortious liability. For example, Negligence or Recklessness.

Negligence, Fault and No fault liability

In negligence, the defendant causes injury to the plaintiff without any malafide intention. The person who caused the injury was not careful or was negligent. The injury is caused due to omission of the “duty of care” which a reasonable and prudent man ought to have considered. Recklessness is high degree of negligence or carelessness.

Misfeasance-improper performance of a lawful act for example Negligence, or non-feasance-failure to do an act which one is legally obliged to do (an act of omission), for example, Fault/mistake that leads to injury to someone, who has a right of action in a court of law against the tort-feaser. Here neither intention, nor, motive is material. Despite fault being an essential condition of liability, the law of tort also contain “no fault liability”-strict liability. In the case of M.C.Mehta V. Union Of India, the Supreme Court stated the rule of strict liability invoked in the case of Rylands V. Fletcher. Similarly, in case of hazardous and dangerous industries, courts have invoked the rule of absolute liability.

To conclude, in law of torts, it may or may not be essential to prove the existence of mental element or motive or mala-fide intent to fix liability upon tort feasor. In tort, the liability can be incurred regardless of whether the injury was inflicted intentionally or by accident. But there may situations where it has to be seen how essential mental element is in determining tortious liability.

It can be said that the asserted unimportance of the defendant's motive underlying acts giving rise to tort liability is part of the conventional wisdom of most writers of basic tort texts. With changing times, the scope of torts enlarged and the presence or absence of mental element would not absolve a wrong does from tortious liability. Of course, the presence of mental element, only aggravates the liability.

* [ Sample Question -Law of Torts, LLB 1st Sememster]
[writers note:-The question contains a statement which has to be discussed taking into account the following aspects-(i) Motive and its role in law of torts;(ii) non-relevance of motive or mental element in torts;(iii) exceptions, i.e; cases or circumstances under which motive is relevant in torts]

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