Understanding Malicious Prosecution: A Legal Perspective

Deepak Sabherwal, Advocate
Additional Advocate General, Haryana
Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh
Email Id : sabherwalassociates@gmail.com

Date : 23/02/2024
Location : Chamber No.81, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh
📱 +91-9872215757

Understanding Malicious Prosecution: A Legal Perspective


Malicious prosecution is a legal term that refers to the wrongful initiation of legal proceedings against an individual with the intent to harm or harass them. This legal concept is rooted in the principle that every person is entitled to justice and protection from baseless and malicious legal actions. In this article, we will explore the key elements of malicious prosecution, its consequences, and how the legal system addresses such cases.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court in the matter Umesh Kumar v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2014 ALL SCR 661; held that the person who is aggrieved by malicious prosecution, his various rights are trampled upon by having to face the unnecessary and malicious litigation, his right to reputation is totally destroyed considering the social stigma attached to prosecution in our country, especially if it involves the arrest of a person.

That one glaring example of malicious prosecution that has been a rising trend amongst the women is to file malicious cases under Sec. 498A of Indian Penal Code.

Defining Malicious Prosecution:

Malicious prosecution occurs when someone initiates a legal proceeding against another person without probable cause and with malicious intent. Common causes for Malicious Prosecution are :

1. Personal Vendettas: Malicious prosecution can arise from personal conflicts or vendettas, where one party seeks to harm another by using the legal system.

2. Abuse of Power: Individuals in positions of authority may misuse their power to initiate legal proceedings against someone without proper justification.

3. Competitive Advantage: In business or personal disputes, one party may use malicious prosecution as a tactic to gain a competitive advantage or to undermine the reputation of their adversary.

Consequences for Victims:

1. Financial Burden: The legal costs associated with defending against baseless accusations can be financially crippling for the falsely accused.

2. Emotional Distress: The stress and anxiety of facing unwarranted legal action can have severe emotional and psychological effects on the victim.

3. Damage to Reputation: Even if the accused is ultimately vindicated, the mere accusation can damage their reputation, impacting personal and professional relationships.

Legal Remedies:

Victims of malicious prosecution can seek various remedies, including:

1. Compensatory Damages: These damages aim to compensate the victim for the harm they suffered, such as legal fees, emotional distress, and damage to reputation. This may include the compensation by writ court for public wrongs or civil law remedies including under law of torts.

2. Punitive Damages: In some cases, the court may award punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in similar malicious conduct.

3. Injunctions: In certain situations, a court may issue an injunction to prevent the wrongdoer from continuing their malicious actions or initiating further legal proceedings.

Establishing a case of malicious Prosecution by victim against the complainant:

To establish a case of malicious prosecution, certain elements must be proven:

1. Initiation of Legal Proceedings against the victim.

2. Lack of Probable Cause: It must be demonstrated that there was no reasonable or probable cause for the legal action.

3. Malice: The victim needs to prove that the legal action was initiated with malicious intent.

4. Termination in Favor of the Victim: The legal proceedings initiated against the victim must have terminated in their favor. This does not necessarily mean the victim won the case; it could also mean that the case was dismissed, withdrawn, or decided in a manner that did not involve guilt on the part of the victim.

5. That the victim had suffered damage.

Burden of proof:

The plaintiff/victim must prove that the prosecution was instituted against him, without any reasonable and probable cause, and that it was instituted with a malicious intention, which was wrongful in point of fact. The Plaintiff/victim must also prove that the facts and circumstances of the case at the time of the offence were such as to be in the eyes of the Judge inconsistent with the existence of reasonable and probable cause.

If a defendant/complainant has a reasonable and probable cause for setting the criminal law in motion, the mere fact that he might have pursued a civil remedy cannot render him liable for malicious prosecution.


Malicious prosecution is a serious violation of the principles of justice and fairness. It undermines the integrity of the legal system and can have profound effects on the lives of those wrongly accused. Understanding the elements of malicious prosecution and the legal remedies available is crucial for both potential victims and those within the legal profession to uphold justice and protect individuals from unwarranted legal actions. Legal systems worldwide continue to evolve to strike a balance between protecting individuals from baseless accusations and ensuring that those who abuse the legal process face appropriate consequences. Striking a balance between justice and accountability is essential to prevent the misuse of legal proceedings and protect the rights and well-being of individuals within the legal system.

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