Malicious Accusation

Malicious Accusation
Malicious Accusation
Quick Summary of Malicious Accusation

A malicious accusation is a false claim made with the intent to harm or damage someone, without any evidence to back it up. It can take the form of a formal criminal charge or an informal statement alleging illegal or immoral behaviour. The accusation is made with an improper motive and lacks reasonable grounds. For instance, falsely accusing a coworker of theft to get them fired or falsely accusing an ex-partner of abuse to gain an advantage in a custody battle are both examples of malicious accusations. These examples demonstrate how such accusations can tarnish a person’s reputation, livelihood, and have severe repercussions for the accused.

What is the dictionary definition of Malicious Accusation?
Dictionary Definition of Malicious Accusation

A malicious accusation occurs when an individual intentionally accuses another person of wrongdoing without any substantiating evidence. It should be distinguished from a formal accusation, which is presented in a court of law and supported by evidence. Malicious accusations can cause harm and distress to the accused individual and may even result in legal repercussions for the accuser if their falsehood is exposed.

Full Definition Of Malicious Accusation

Malicious accusation, also known as malicious prosecution, is a tort in common law jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom. This legal overview will delve into the historical context, essential elements, defences, and significant case law relevant to malicious accusations. Additionally, it will address the implications for individuals and institutions, including the potential remedies and damages that may be pursued.

Historical Context

Malicious accusation has roots in the medieval legal systems of England, where safeguarding individuals from wrongful prosecution was essential to maintaining justice. The tort evolved to protect individuals from the misuse of legal processes. Over time, courts developed strict criteria to ensure that only claims with genuine merit could proceed, thereby balancing the protection of individual rights with the necessity of maintaining the integrity of the legal system.

Essential Elements of Malicious Accusation

To establish a claim for malicious accusation in the United Kingdom, the claimant must prove the following elements:

  • Initiation of Proceedings: The defendant must have initiated or continued criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings against the claimant. This includes causing the claimant to be charged with a crime or pursuing civil litigation against them.
  • Lack of Reasonable and Probable Cause: The claimant must demonstrate that the defendant lacked reasonable and probable cause to initiate or continue the proceedings. Reasonable and probable cause is defined as an honest belief in the guilt of the accused, based on reasonable grounds.
  • Malice: The claimant must prove that the defendant acted with malice. Malice, in this context, means that the defendant had an improper purpose for initiating or continuing the proceedings, such as spite, ill-will, or any motive other than bringing the claimant to justice.
  • Favourable Termination of Proceedings: The proceedings must have been resolved in favour of the claimant. This means that the previous case was terminated without a conviction or a judgment against the claimant.
  • Damage: The claimant must have suffered damage as a result of the malicious prosecution. This can include damage to reputation, financial loss, or other personal harm.

Defences of Malicious Accusation

Several defences can be employed against a claim of malicious accusation. These defences include:

  • Reasonable and Probable Cause: If the defendant can prove that they had reasonable and probable cause to initiate the proceedings, the claim for malicious prosecution will fail.
  • Lack of Malice: Demonstrating that the defendant acted without malice and with a genuine intention to bring the claimant to justice can serve as a defence.
  • Judicial Immunity: Judges and other judicial officers are typically immune from malicious prosecution claims for actions performed within the scope of their judicial duties.
  • Prosecutorial Immunity: Prosecutors may also be immune from such claims, provided their actions were within the scope of their prosecutorial duties and not outside their jurisdiction or authority.

Significant Case Law

Several landmark cases have shaped the understanding and application of malicious accusations in the UK:

  • Hicks v Faulkner (1878): This case clarified the definition of reasonable and probable cause, establishing that it must be based on an honest belief in the guilt of the accused, supported by reasonable grounds.
  • Glinski v McIver (1962): This case reinforced that the presence of malice must be proven separately from the lack of reasonable and probable cause, emphasizing that both elements are crucial for a successful claim.
  • Martin v Watson (1996): The House of Lords held that a claimant must show that the defendant’s actions were the primary cause of the prosecution and that the defendant acted with malice.

Implications for Individuals and Institutions


For individuals, being the subject of a malicious accusation can have severe repercussions, including:

  • Damage to Reputation: Accusations, even if unfounded, can tarnish an individual’s reputation, affecting their personal and professional lives.
  • Financial Loss: Legal defence costs, loss of employment, and other financial burdens can arise from defending against baseless accusations.
  • Emotional Distress: The stress and anxiety of being wrongfully accused can lead to significant emotional and psychological harm.


Institutions, such as law enforcement agencies, legal professionals, and businesses, must navigate the following challenges:

  • Liability: Institutions can face significant legal and financial liability if found to have maliciously prosecuted an individual.
  • Trust and Credibility: Engaging in or supporting malicious accusations can undermine public trust and credibility, particularly for law enforcement and judicial bodies.
  • Policy and Training: Institutions must ensure robust policies and training to prevent the misuse of legal processes and to handle allegations appropriately.

Remedies and Damages

Victims of malicious accusation may seek various remedies and damages, including:

  • Compensatory Damages: These are intended to compensate the claimant for actual losses suffered, including legal expenses, loss of earnings, and other financial impacts.
  • General Damages: These address non-pecuniary harm such as emotional distress, damage to reputation, and loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Exemplary (Punitive) Damages: In cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious, courts may award exemplary damages to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future.
  • Injunctions: In some cases, claimants may seek injunctive relief to prevent ongoing or future malicious actions by the defendant.


Malicious accusation is a serious tort in the United Kingdom, designed to protect individuals from the wrongful use of legal processes. Establishing a claim requires proving the initiation of proceedings without reasonable and probable cause, malice, favourable termination of the proceedings, and resulting damage. Defences such as reasonable cause and lack of malice are available to defendants, while judicial and prosecutorial immunities provide additional protections for certain officials. Landmark cases have helped shape the application of the law, ensuring a balance between protecting individuals’ rights and maintaining the integrity of the legal system. Both individuals and institutions must navigate the significant implications of malicious accusations, and victims have several avenues for seeking remedies and damages.

Malicious Accusation FAQ'S

Yes, you can sue someone for making a false accusation against you. However, you will need to prove that the accusation was made with malicious intent and that it caused harm to your reputation or resulted in other damages.

A malicious accusation is one that is made with the intent to harm or defame someone’s character, reputation, or livelihood. It involves knowingly making false statements or providing false evidence against someone.

The consequences for making a malicious accusation can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the harm caused. In some cases, it may be considered a criminal offense, leading to fines or imprisonment. Additionally, the accused party may be able to file a civil lawsuit for defamation or other related claims.

Proving malicious intent can be challenging, as it often requires demonstrating the accused party’s state of mind. However, evidence such as prior conflicts, contradictory statements, or witnesses who can testify to the accuser’s motives may help establish malicious intent.

Yes, you have the right to defend yourself against a malicious accusation. It is crucial to gather evidence, such as witness statements, surveillance footage, or any other relevant documentation that can support your innocence. Consulting with an attorney experienced in defamation cases can also be beneficial.

Yes, if you make a false accusation against someone with malicious intent, you can be held liable for defamation or other related claims. The accused party may be entitled to seek damages for harm caused to their reputation, emotional distress, or financial losses.

Yes, you can report a malicious accusation to the police. However, it is essential to provide them with any evidence or information that supports your claim. The police will investigate the matter and determine if any criminal charges should be filed against the accuser.

Yes, it is possible to settle a malicious accusation out of court through negotiation or mediation. This can involve reaching a mutually agreeable resolution, such as a public apology, retraction of the false accusation, or financial compensation for damages suffered.

Yes, if someone has made a malicious accusation against you, you may be able to file a counterclaim. This allows you to seek damages for harm caused to your reputation, emotional distress, or financial losses resulting from the false accusation.

The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit for a malicious accusation can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances. It is crucial to consult with an attorney to determine the applicable time limit in your case and ensure you file within the required timeframe.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

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