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Malice in Law and Malice in Fact

Malice in Law and Malice in Fact
Malice in Law and Malice in Fact


Malice in Law (Legal Malice)

In its technical legal sense, malice in law does not imply an act done with an improper or evil motive. Instead, it signifies "a wrongful act done intentionally without just cause or excuse." 

Viscount Haldane described malice in law as, "A person who inflicts an injury upon another person in contravention of the law is not allowed to say that he did so with an innocent mind; he is taken to know the law, and he must act within the law.

He may, therefore, be guilty of malice in law, although, so far as the state of his mind is concerned, he acts ignorantly and in that sense innocently." 

In this context, malice in law simply means a wrongful intention, presumed in the case of an unlawful act, rather than a bad motive or feeling of ill-will. For instance, in defamation cases, stating that a publication was done "falsely and maliciously" means it is false and made without lawful justification.


Malice in Fact (Actual Malice)

In its popular or actual sense, malice in fact refers to an evil motive behind a wrongful act. When the defendant commits a wrongful act with feelings of spite, vengeance, or ill-will, the act is said to be done 'maliciously'. 

It's crucial to distinguish this from intention, which pertains to the wrongful act itself. For example, the immediate intention of a person might be to commit theft, while the underlying motive could be to provide for their children or assist someone in need.

Relevance of Motive in Tort Liability

As a general principle in the Law of Torts, the motive is not a relevant factor in determining a person's liability. A wrongful act is not transformed into a lawful act due to a noble motive, and similarly, a lawful act doesn't become wrongful due to malicious intent.

South Wales Miners’ Federation v. Glamorgan Coal Company

This case illustrates that a wrongful act cannot be converted into a lawful one by a positive motive. Here, the plaintiffs, coalmine owners, sued a miners' union for inducing workmen to breach their employment contracts by taking holidays, with the aim to maintain coal prices.

Despite no ill-will involved, the House of Lords held the defendants liable, highlighting that the act's legality isn't altered by its underlying intentions.

Bradford Corporation v. Pickles

This landmark case emphasises that a lawful act doesn't become unlawful due to an evil motive. The defendant excavated his land, which affected the water supply to the adjacent land of the Corporation.

Despite the malicious intent to force the plaintiffs into buying his land at a high price, the lawful use of his property meant the defendant wasn't liable. 

Lord Macnaughten stated, "In such a case, motives are immaterial. It is the act, not the motive for the act, that must be regarded. If the act apart from the motive gives rise to damage without legal injury, the motive, however reprehensible, will not supply that element."

Allen v. Flood

Lord Watson reiterated that the law of England does not consider motive as a component of civil wrongs. "Any invasion of the civil rights of another person is a legal wrong, carrying with it liability to repair its consequences, irrespective of whether the motive was good, bad, or indifferent.

Town Area Committee v. Prabhu Dayal

The plaintiff constructed buildings without adhering to the U.P. Municipalities Act provisions, leading to their demolition by the defendants. The plaintiff contended that the demolition was motivated by malice. 

However, the Allahabad High Court ruled that the demolition of an illegally constructed building was lawful, and the officers' motives were irrelevant. 

Justice Hari Swaroop emphasised, "The plaintiff can get compensation only if he proves to have suffered injury due to an illegal act of the defendant and not otherwise. Malice does not enter the scene at all.

A legal act, though motivated by malice, will not make the action liable to pay damages... Merely because some officer has malice against a citizen who has committed a wrong will not render the action of the authority invalid if it is otherwise in accordance with law."


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