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Imprisonment (from imprison Old French, French emprisonner, from en in + prison prison, from Latin prensio, arrest, from prehendere, prendere, to seize) is the restraint of a person's liberty, for any cause whatsoever, whether by authority of the government, or by a person acting without such authority. In the latter case it is "false imprisonment". Imprisonment does not necessarily imply a place of confinement, with bolts and bars, but may be exercised by any use or display of force, lawfully or unlawfully, wherever displayed, even in the open street. A man becomes a prisoner, wherever he may be, by the mere word or touch of a duly authorized officer directed to that end. Usually, however, imprisonment is understood to imply an actual confinement in a jail or prison employed for the purpose according to the provisions of law.[1]

England and Wales[edit]

In English law, imprisonment is the restraint of a person's liberty. The book Termes de la Ley contains the following definition:

Imprisonment is no other thing than the restraint of a man's liberty, whether it be in the open field, or in the stocks, or in the cage in the streets or in a man's own house, as well as in the common gaols; and in all the places the party so restrained is said to be a prisoner so long as he hath not his liberty freely to go at all times to all places whither he will without bail or mainprise or otherwise.[2]

This passage was approved by Atkin and Duke LJJ in Meering v Grahame White Aviation Co.[3] It is not imprisonment to prevent a person from proceeding along a particular way if it is possible for him to reach his intended destination by another route.[4] Imprisonment without lawful cause is a tort called false imprisonment.[5] Imprisonment is a type of sentence.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Imprisonment". The New International Encyclopedia. Second Edition. Dodd, Mead and Company. New York. 1915. Volume XII. Page 35.
  2. ^ John Rastell. Termes de la Ley. 1636. Page 202. Digital copy from Google Books.
  3. ^ Meering v Grahame White Aviation Co (1919) 122 LT 44, [1918-19] All ER Rep 1490 at 1502 and 1503 and 1507. (The passages in question are set out in R v Sayle, 29 September 2008, Court of General Gaol Delivery, Isle of Man.
  4. ^ Bird v Jones (1845) 7 QB 742, (1845) 115 ER 668, (1845) 15 LJQB 82, (1845) 9 Jur 870, (1845) 10 JP 4, (1845) 5 LT (OS) 406
  5. ^ Clerk and Lindsell on Torts. Sweet and Maxwell. Sixteenth Edition. 1989. Paragraph 17-15 at page 972.
  6. ^ Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. 1999. Chapter 5. Section II. "Sentences of Imprisonment".